The actor discusses his affinity for working with women behind the camera
Since fronting Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma in 2014, David Oyelowo has worked on four feature-length projects directed by women — and he’s proud of it.
“I learned a big lesson on Selma,” the actor and producer says during an interview on Entertainment Weekly: The Show. “There were four male directors before Ava came aboard, and I watched how perspective matters to a story. The first two directors that I was aware of on the project were white men, and then the next two were black men, and then Ava.”
The film, which Oyelowo says took around seven years to make, went through a revolving door of directors before Paramount landed DuVernay, who’d already wowed audiences on the festival circuit with movies like Middle of Nowhere and I Will Follow.
“To watch her perspective inform what that film became really illustrated to me that who gets to tell the story matters, and that more often than not we have not seen a female perspective. We very rarely see a black female perspective,” he says. “As it pertains to a story like Dr. King’s, where you have individuals like Coretta Scott King and Annie Lee Cooper… If you don’t have a female point of view… those characters were being paid short shrift. That civil rights movement was not built purely on the backs of men; it was women as well.”
At the top of its respective Oscar year, Selma was largely expected to earn DuVernay a nomination for best director; though the film ultimately scored two nods (winning one for best original song), Oyelowo tells Ogunnaike the industry hasn’t evolved to accept female directors the way it should.
“At the end of the day, here in America, women are 51 percent of the population. Why on earth should it be rare that they get to direct movies in a medium as influential as film?” he asks.
Oyelowo teamed with yet another female filmmaker, Amma Asante, on this year’s interracial marriage drama A United Kingdom, about Botswana’s Prince Seretse Khama, who endures public backlash upon coupling with a white English woman (Rosamund Pike) in the 1940s. Oyelowo, whose real-life spouse is white, said the experience of making the film rang true to his reality.
“It was tricky, shall we say. I think people are more used to, in my situation of being married to a white woman, of maybe the white person’s parents being the obstacle or being opposed. In my situation it was quite different,” Oyelowo admits. “My dad, when I introduced [my wife] to him as someone I wanted to marry, he said, ‘One day she is going to wake up and realize you are black’ … but that was on the basis of his experience. He’d experienced a lot of racism in the U.K. in the ’60s and ’70s, and he wanted his son to marry someone who would stay in love with him.”
Watch Oyelowo’s full interview on Entertainment Weekly: The Show above, and catch the full episode of Entertainment Weekly: The Show, available now, on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.
A United Kingdom is now playing in select theaters.