Yesha Callahan

David Oyelowo: Hollywood Has A ‘Fear of White Guilt’

Image: "Selma" - European Premiere - VIP Arrivals

In an interview with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Selma star David Oyelowo opened about his recent Oscar snub and called out the Academy for only celebrating Black actors when they play “subservient” roles. Oyelowo thinks the reason behind The Academy’s race problem is the “fear of white guilt.”

“There is a fear of white guilt. So you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands through their own narrative … We don’t want to see that pain again, so you don’t really go into what that pain was in an authentic way,” said Oyelowo. “Both of those things are patronizing to the audience. You can’t have people curating culture in this way when we need to see things in order to move forward from them.”

We’ve just got to come to the point whereby there isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy—a notion of who black people are—that feeds into what we are celebrated as, not just in the Academy, but in life generally. We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals, we have been all of those things. But we have been leaders, we have been kings, we have been those who changed the world.

Those films are so hard to get made. People have often said to me, ‘Why has it taken so long?’ I mean, [King] was assassinated almost 50 years ago. There has been no film where Dr. King has been the center of his own narrative until now. That’s because up until 12 Years A Slave and The Butler did so well, both critically and at the box office, films like this were told through the eyes of white protagonists because there is a fear of white guilt.

So you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands through their own narrative. We don’t want to see that pain again, so you don’t even go into what that pain was in an authentic way. Both of those things are patronizing to the audience. You can’t have people curating culture in this way when we need to see things in order to reform from them.”

Check out the full interview here:

  1. February 3, 2015 - Reply

    If only some of us knew who we were. I think the White man knows who we are, thus, he’s tried his hardest to bury it. When certain people feel superior, they have to make someone else or group inferior, and we are it. They spend countless hours trying to kill us off, but they never will. We will always rise no matter what they try to do.

    • February 3, 2015 - Reply

      @Noirluv45

      Preach Sister.

      These are great words from you.

      • February 3, 2015 - Reply

        @truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

        Thank you, truth. 😀

        • February 3, 2015 - Reply

          @Noirluv45

          You’re Welcome Sister 🙂

    • February 3, 2015 - Reply

      @Noirluv45

      Tell it!

      • February 3, 2015 - Reply

        @good2bfree

        Thank you, good. 😀

    • February 4, 2015 - Reply

      @Noirluv45

      Agreed. And to maintain the illusion of superiority, Hollywood constantly reaffirms the status quo by telling our stories. Most of us get so caught up in watching our favorite black stars on the big screen, that we often miss the underlying message.

  2. February 3, 2015 - Reply

    I am bothered by his words. I think they are weak and insensitive toward other African-American actors. How dare he? Chiwetel who was in “12 years a Slave” is his peer and so are countless other black actors who bring dignity to very difficult roles. Why is he putting them down? Would he say the same of Forrest Whitaker ho played a Butler? Forrest is one of the nicest, most talented and self-aware black actors around Sometimes you have to take on subservient roles and sometimes you don’t. Subservient people can be complex too. See Denzel Washington in Glory when he was being whipped. See Cicely Tyson in Sounder or countless other black actors who brought dignity to seemingly passive roles. Why can’t David O accept that he just was not that good at MLK? Denze las Malcolm was complex whereas David O was wooden as MLK. The story of MLK is one people around the world embrace. I am certain if he had done a better job at acting, this would have been a shoo in. White Hollywood dreams of such a role to embrace because it has all tehe elements they like. David O (I am not even going to comment on his white wife because that is besides the point) needs to stop with this rant. He ruined the onscreen life of an icon. Sorry, he did for me. I thought he was bland and wooden. Also, white actors get awards for playing all kinds of questionable and dysfunctional characters. The white actors who win awards are not all angels so this idea that Hollywood only likes a certain kind of acting role for awards is jibberish. Denze and forrest won awards playing pretty evil and agressive people so whatchoo talkin bout Willis? Sit down please. Next time, have more respect fo rMLK and play him like a great actor should. You phoned it in and now you are throwing shade at other black actors who are doing their best with very little. Sit down David.

    • February 3, 2015 - Reply

      @K.C.

      Wow, somebody missed the point.

      • February 3, 2015 - Reply

        @good2bfree

        No, I didn’t miss the point. When he attacks subservient roles, he is attacking his peers who take on those roles. Many of these fine actors have studied their craft for years and are noble people. Forrest Whitaker is an intellectual and he played a Butler. Chiwetel is an intellectual and he played a slave. I don’t see what is not noble about playing a slave who did not lose his will to live. If the issue is we do not have enough diversity in the kind of roles we have as black people that is one thing but stop attacking the ones we do have. I mean it is not like we are talking about Soul Plane here. Also we have to be willing to be ok with characters who are flawed. Why must we always want black people to play these magical noble people instead of real people? Solomon of 12 Years A Slave was a real man who is a hero in my book. His journey is infinitely more complex than many that could have ended up on screen I don’t see anything weak about him. Like I said previously, Forrest and Denzel did not win Oscars for playing passive men. Idi Amin and the character in Training Day are far from that. David O needs to accept he just is not Forrest and he is not Denzel. Period. Clearly by his statement, he is not as courteous as Denzel and Forrest either.

        • February 4, 2015 - Reply

          @K.C.

          hmmmmm, you’re on to something…

    • February 3, 2015 - Reply

      @K.C.

      I thought he was outstanding in Selma and everything he said regarding white folks in Hollywood not wanting black people to be the heroes of their own stories is absolutely true. They always want to be seen as the ones who have to save us. Sadly, it took a foreign born actor to speak this truth because no successful African American actor would have the courage to do so.

      • February 3, 2015 - Reply

        @joe

        I refuse to attack African-American actors just to prove a questionable point. I agree the roles offered our people are problematic, white-washed and often less than desirable. HOWEVER, we have some outstanding actors doing outstanding work recently. These are upstanding black men who studied their craft and are able to play slaves, butlers and whatever the story calls. I will not put them down. My forefathers were slaves. I do not look down on slaves, especially a true story of slaves. Yes, we need more diversity but I dislike that he seems to be throwing shade at black actors who are in these roles. To be honest, I was mad that he took the story of one of my heroes and phoned it in. Denzel was great in Malcolm X and I thought David O was not good. Playing MLK in a movie like this is almost an Oscar shoo in and he blew it. He needs to take responsibility for the fact that he did not deliver.

    • February 4, 2015 - Reply

      @K.C.

      I’ve personally haven’t seen Selma yet (I know, I know), but I’ve heard the same criticism that it wasn’t Oscar worthy and David O did well, but wasn’t great. (And this is coming from black people by the way). So you are not alone. That’s why I’m not angry about the Oscars snub. But I have to see it to be full convinced.
      However, black women Oscar winners have always been subservient (except for the abusive black mother played my Monique).
      And sadly (and maybe ignorantly) being that David O. has a white wife sort of discredits him. (I know I’m gonna get it for that one, but that’s how I feel).

      • February 4, 2015 - Reply

        @Delia

        I hear you on the roles for black women. They are very problematic. Either we are portrayed as loose, subservient or angry. I agree with you on that. I hear your point about his wife. I mean he hopefully married who he loves and he still has the right to denounce racism but I do think it is an interesting contradiction: marrying the very person whom you criticize. Complex. Yes, I know quite a few black people who were not crazy about his portrayal or the film. Malcolm X was a phenomenon in the black community. Selma, for whatever reason, did not have the same effect. Something to think about.

    • February 4, 2015 - Reply

      @K.C.

      Chiwetel is also from the UK.

  3. February 3, 2015 - Reply

    I think there is truth to what he says

  4. February 4, 2015 - Reply

    David has a point here to some extent (more so for BW than Men ) as I would hardly call Forest as Idi Amin , Jamie as Ray Charles or Denzil in Training day subservient .
    The message may have merit but the messenger well lets just say There is a saying in my country ” The higher the monkey climbs the more he is exposed ‘ meaning as people climb the ladder of success their rear and who they really are are exposed to the world.
    Mebbe not here but David has and continues to make utterances , I find somewhat problematic and I dont really care for him
    Like David i wasn’t Born in the USA but think the big difference between us is that I know one needs to respect the shoulders on which you stand.

  5. February 5, 2015 - Reply

    OK. So make some black movies then. I mean think about it. Black actors from Africa who lived in Britain are making films in America about black history in America. But how come these Africans who show how ‘universal’ they are in portraying black folks in the diaspora, cannot build a black entertainment empire of their own spanning the Americas, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean? Because the truth is that black folks are SCARED of being independent of the white system. It isn’t like there are thousands of black writers, cinematographers and editors who are falling all over themselves to generate quality material for black entertainment. His words sound nice because with his white wife he has shown he has no interest in building anything outside the white system no matter how badly black folks are portrayed. If that is the problem then stop playing along with it. Leave the plantation then! But as usual, negroes are scared and like paying lip service to thing that require ACTION on their part.

    • February 5, 2015 - Reply

      @D1Mind

      The Nigerian film industry is quite a lucrative one. Problem is the films are not very good. This is a complicated issue. You have to deal with distribution, money/financing, etc. Not as easy as it sounds but of course can be done. I think it is unfortunate your point about non American blacks portraying black Americans. I just don’t see a conflict there. To me, we are all black. At the end of the day, who cares? Besides, for decades Black American actors played every single African role from Idi Amin, to Roots to nelson Mandela, to Steven Biko. Let’s not have short memory about how we black Americans were dominantly portraying non Americans. What’s good for the goose….

      • February 6, 2015 - Reply

        @K.C.

        Of course Africans are Africans and it should not ONLY be because of the white entertainment industry that Africans from the continent are crossing to the shores of America. Africans from Africa to America and the other places I mentioned are a multi billion dollar market to themselves. There is absolutely no reason black folks from across the diaspora which is over a billion folks should not be making large sums of money serving this market with QUALITY content. Yes Nigeria is not high quality and you have to watch the film Nollywood Babylon to go in depth on that. But that does not mean it cannot change. There is black talent in Africa and the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe and they are SCARED to do anything outside of the white industry.

        That was my point.

  6. May 6, 2015 - Reply

    this coming from a man who married white? Hard to find any conviction in his words.

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