Atsushi Nishijima
February 02, 2015 at 04:52 PM EST

Selma star David Oyelowo, whose performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. was overlooked by the Academy this Oscar season, said that black actors and actresses “have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative.”

Speaking at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Oyelowo was asked by Fandango’s Dave Karger how he felt about being at the center of a perceived Oscar snub. The British actor joked, but then turned serious and address the matter head-on. He pointed to Denzel Washington’s Oscar-nominated performance as Malcolm X and Sidney Poitier’s un-nominated role in In the Heat of the Night as notable examples where Oscar failed to recognize black characters who weren’t subservient or victims or supporting characters to a white protagonist. 

“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,” Oyelowo said. “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.”

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