Ava DuVernay knew last month she wasn’t going to be nominated for an Oscar.
She knew it before the controversy began over how President Lyndon B. Johnson is depicted in her movie, Selma, and before screening copies failed to reach Academy members until late in December, hobbling the film’s awards hopes. She knew it before the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild, and Producers Guild awards all declined to nominate the movie in any category. Despite widespread critical praise for her film, DuVernay predicted that she would not be the first black woman to land a directing nod.
“It would be lovely,” she told EW over lunch in L.A. on Dec. 18. “When it happens to whomever it happens to, it will certainly have meaning.” But it would not be her. “This is not me being humble, either,” she said. “It’s math.”
While all 6,000-plus members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences vote on who wins an Oscar, the nominations are determined only by Academy members in the appropriate profession. Actors nominate actors. Directors nominate directors. The directors’ branch of the Academy is, quite literally, a boys’ club. According to a 2012 study by the Los Angeles Times, the directors’ branch is 91 percent male, and 90 percent white. That alone wouldn’t prevent a DuVernay nomination, of course, but her lack of personal and professional connections with those directors would, she thought. “I know not one person in my branch,” she said.