The acclaimed documentary "Blackfish" failed to get an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature Thursday morning, defying many expectations. Twitter has been ablaze with reactions to the snub, some outraged and others saying the snub might give the issue even more attention than a win.
The films that did secure an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature are: "The Act of Killing," "Cutie and the Boxer," "Dirty Wars," "The Square" and "20 Feet from Stardom."
This isn't the first time there's been a surprising snub for the best documentary feature category -- it's a notoriously controversial one, and has been known in the past for omitting some of the most critically acclaimed and successful documentaries. The Oscars apply special eligibility rules to the documentary category; in order to even be considered for a nomination, each film must complete both a weeklong run in a theater in Los Angeles and a weeklong run in a theater in Manhattan, conform to certain technical film formats, and have been reviewed in either the The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times.
Another unusual element of the category is the voting process, which was adjusted in 2012 after a committee led by Michael Moore (a member of the Academy's governing board), petitioned to change them. Previously, the nominated films were chosen by small sub-committees, meaning that just one or two people could block a particular film from a nomination.
With the new rule change, the entire documentary branch is involved in the selection, making it less likely that just one or two people could change the outcome. (Moore explains the changes here.) Still, there are only 160 members of the documentary branch -- a relatively small number, compared to the more than 6,000 total academy members voting in other categories -- and there is still the possibility that if some voters hate a film, they could essentially ruin its chances of being nominated, as Jason Bailey points out at Flavorwire.
Some of the most surprising snubs in the category in recent years have been "Gimme Shelter" (1970), Errol Morris' "The Thin Blue Line" (1988), Moore's "Roger & Me" (1989), Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" (2005), "Last Train Home" (2010) and Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010).
As John Anderson writes at the New York Times, the panel of documentarians that votes on the category "tends to favor inspiring stories about struggle and triumph, not examinations of darker subjects with ambiguous conclusions."
The film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival last January, and was picked up by CNN for a wider release. The plot revolves around the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed when an orca whale with a history of violence dragged her by her ponytail and she drowned. The issue of orcas in captivity is at the heart of the film -- a practice which it comes out as strongly against.
"Blackfish" has spurred an entire movement against keeping orcas in captivity after its release -- from countless protests, to musicians cancelling their acts at SeaWorld parks, to celebrities speaking out against SeaWorld. It's reached an incredibly wide audience so far -- according to CNN, it was seen by 20 million viewers in just 14 airings.
Jeffrey Ventre, former trainer who appeared in the film: