Martin Scorsese’s SELMA

It’s just before everyone in town leaves LA for the holidays. The freeways are actually moving (well sort of). The line at the coffee shop is noticeably shorter. The assistant has less than 150 emails in their inbox on a Monday morning. Nobody feels like working, but there’s still some work to be done…

Martin Scorsese recently wrapped up his Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, SELMA. Unfortunately, the film has exited post-production too late and will miss some of the awards nomination voting deadlines.

Paramount has apologized, and said there will be no screeners because of this. And that was that.

Only it wasn’t, among those 150 emails this morning was a vitriolic rant from Scorsese’s people. “If you don’t get a screener out to the Guilds before Christmas it will be your head on my plate at Christmas dinner.”

That was the first of many such rants. The folks at Paramount then began to scramble. Scorsese’s people demand that screeners still be given out, after all there’s still the PGA nominations and most importantly the Academy Awards. If no screener is given to the DGA members, how will Scorsese return to Oscar glory?!

Thankfully everyone worked together and Paramount was able to get out screeners before SELMA’s limited release on Christmas Day. The film ranked highly among the PGA’s nominations for best picture of the year, and Scorsese is poised to take home the Best Director statue according to industry trades. A leader in best picture, and a monumental achievement for all involved.

Except that’s not at all how it happened.

SELMA is the brilliant work of indie director Ava Duvernay, a black woman. Prior to SELMA, she was known for taking home the Director Award from the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Despite showing immense talent and becoming the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe, her and her film have failed to garner many other nominations.

While the Globe’s news is great, SELMA and its achievements are noticeably missing from the PGA nominations, often considered a predictor for Best Picture of the Year at the Academy Awards. Unlike the hypothetical Scorsese story, Duvernay’s people never apparently pushed hard for the release of a screener. Paramount never seemingly tried to get a copy out to those who vote in the Academy Awards and for other important accolades.

As a result of not trying to produce a screener copy, people have been left to either see the film in theaters or at Guild/Private screenings. Not enough people saw SELMA to actually vote for it, and so it has been left off of many important ballots.

As of it’s nation-wide release, still no screener copies have been made available to the Guilds. The deadline for Academy Award voting ended January 8th, 2015.

The entitlement among many in Hollywood is that “no screener, equals no vote.” This is especially hypocritical among an industry that strongly equates lost ticket sales to free views of films. While I will not equate film piracy with screener viewership, I find it deeply hypocritical that industry folks would themselves not champion their own advice of monetarily supporting art with a ticket purchase.

The result unfortunately is that SELMA will struggle to gain enough support for a Best Director nomination, or Best Picture. If it does secure these nominations, it remains unseen as to whether or not there will still be enough people to see the film to submit final votes of nominees by February 15th, 2015.

This is a classic case of double standards. If it were Scorsese’s film, I have no doubt that more would have been done to get a screener made up and distributed. And I say this not because he is a white man, and Ava is a black woman, but because of how Hollywood bends over to the established.

The problem with this double standard is that where the establishment is largely white and male, this negatively affects those who are not. If we treat Scorsese differently than Ava because of his pedigree, then we have automatically contributed to a double standard, whether it be racially motivated or not.

Unfortunately the result is potentially a racially dubious outcome in that a black woman may be left off of the Academy Awards ballots, denied her chance at making history.

We as an industry need to be a lot more concerned with how we treat new talent coming up. If we are to preach that it is truly a meritocracy, then women and people of color will be championed as often and as much as their white male colleagues. SELMA has shown this is not the case. The Black List, where film executives list of their favorite unproduced screenplays, had less then 10% females on the list. Could it be that more men’s scripts are circulating around town and promoted over women and people of color’s specs? The Black List seems to suggest that yes, that is the case.

The industry contributes to a double standard because it absolutely does not equally promote, rep and fight for women/people of color the way it does white men, especially established white men.

If SELMA is left off of Academy ballots, Hollywood will have no one to blame but themselves and their double standards. And perhaps in a parallel universe, Scorsese would have walked home with another Oscar.

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