Oprah Winfrey is a producer of one of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, Selma. The film’s exclusion from all other categories except Best Original Song has been controversial as actor David Oyelowo, who plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and director Ava Duvernay, were expected to be in the running. At Saturday night’s Spirit Awards, Oyelowo lost out in the Best Actor category, but Oprah could not stop singing his praises.
“He has become one of the dearest people in my life, which is saying a lot. I didn’t think at this point in my life I would make any new friends.
“But in the course of working on ‘The Butler’ I saw in him the same spirit as myself and I wanted to do what I could to open that space and help him to make all that he is meant to be. He is just one of the finest human beings I have ever met.”
It was Oyelowo who first introduced Oprah to Duvernay by handing her a DVD of the director’s film Middle of Nowhere. It prompted Oprah to contact Duvernay and invite her to her home in California. Winfrey supported the director’s work on Selma and said she noted the former publicist came into her own while making the film.
“I saw the way everybody held her in the highest of esteem. There was such a high level of regard for her and what she was doing — to have that kind of … not control but mastery of the situation.”
As for the controversy over Selma‘s lack of award nominations, which was foreseen as early as late last year when Academy voters did not receive screeners of the film, Duvernay said she is finished talking about it.
“With all due respect, all of these issues around race, gender and class are a distraction right now to the beauty of a film about freedom fighters who fought for justice and indignity; the rest of it is kind of media-created hype. I am not interested in talking about it anymore, but I appreciate the questions.”
Duvernay nonetheless expressed support for Oyelowo, who has been outspoken about the controversy.
“I think he is wonderful — everything he says is fantastic. I think any conversation about diversity, inclusion and representation is a positive thing.”
The Academy Awards air Sunday night on ABC.
[Image of Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo courtesy of Getty]