By Esther Zuckerman
February 11, 2015 at 03:41 PM EST
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In the lead-up to the Oscars, Selma star David Oyelowo is making powerful criticisms of the entertainment industry’s treatment of black actors and actresses on both sides of the pond. 

In a recent interview with The Big Issue via The Guardian, Oyelowo discussed how he needed to move to the U.S. to advance in his career because British film does not “tell stories with black protagonists in a heroic context.” 

“Not only do I think that but the opportunities I am being afforded bear that out, I’d never get to play a character akin to Dr. King living and working here. If I looked like Benedict [Cumberbatch] or Eddie Redmayne, I could do the films they have done that are being celebrated now,” he said. “But myself, Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor had to gain our success elsewhere because there is not a desire to tell stories with black protagonists in a heroic context within British film.” 

Oyelowo, who also talked about his work as a producer in the interview, said it is a “huge ambition” of his to get those kinds of stories told in the U.K., but added that there is an ingrained system that makes progress difficult. “I am not going to continue to bash my head against a brick wall,” he said. “I tried very hard while I was here. And we have a system in place that makes it very difficult. The class system in the U.K. is very real. The old boys’ club is very real. America has its own challenges but the system is tied to money. If you make people money you will get opportunities, so I am in the process of trying to do just that.” 

These statements echo criticisms Oyelowo has also made in Radio Times about the nature of period dramas in Britain: “We make period dramas [in Britain], but there are almost never black people in them, even though we’ve been on these shores for hundreds of years.” 

While Selma was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, Oyelowo did not receive a nomination for Best Actor. When asked about his Oscar snub at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival he said, “We as black people 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 driving it forward.”

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  • PG-13
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