Well that got out of hand quickly. In the week since the Academy snubbed any actors of color for an Oscar nomination for the second consecutive year we’ve had calls for boycotts, criticisms of those calls for boycotts, promises of change, a war of words between former Fresh Prince of Bel Air actors, white Academy members insisting they’re not racist, fancy charts showing just how white the Academy still is:
The Selma star went-off script at a gala event honoring the Academy’s current president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American to lead the Academy and only the third woman to do so. Oyelowo was there to present Isaacs with an award named after Rosa Parks, and he took the opportunity to deliver a very frank speech warning the rest of the Academy that a change needs to come soon (via Vulture):
“The Academy has a problem It’s a problem that needs to be solved.
A year ago, I did a film called Selma, and after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then,” he said. “We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.
This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.
We have a situation whereby currently the biggest movie in the world and of all time [Star Wars: The Force Awakens] is led by a black man. That film was knocked off the top spot this weekend by a film led by two black men, Ride Along 2. The biggest TV show on the planet is led by black people, Empire.
There was a photograph up here earlier, and it’s a photograph of Lyndon Johnson giving a pen that was used to sign the Voting Rights Act to Dr. King. The year before that photograph was taken, the Civil Rights Act was passed. It was started as an idea by JFK; LBJ used the sentiment at the loss of JFK’s life to bring about the Civil Rights Act being passed. When Dr. King said we need the Voting Rights Act to be passed, LBJ said it’s too soon, it can’t be done. People were losing their lives. People weren’t allowed to vote. Dr. King said [we cannot] wait. What was done was done not in years but months. The march from Selma to Montgomery, those marches began in January of 1965, and by March of ’65 the world was aware what was going on in Selma. By August of that year, the Voting Rights Act was passed.
The Academy is an institution in which they all say radical and timely change cannot happen quickly. It better happen quickly. The law of this country can change in a matter of months. It better come on. The Oscars is on February 28. Cheryl needs us to pray that by that date, change is going to come. We need to pray for Cheryl, we need to support Cheryl, we need to love Cheryl. We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get negative. But we must make our voice heard.”
CHERYL BOONE ISAACS
I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees. While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.
As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly.
This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ’60s and ’70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognize the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.
The left-leaning star penned an op-ed on the matter for Variety, making sure to point out that diversity is even worse for Hispanics in Hollywood :
If you think back 10 years ago, the Academy was doing a better job. Think about how many more African Americans were nominated. I would also make the argument, I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is: How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films?
I think we have a lot of points we need to come to terms with. I find it amazing that we’re an industry that in the 1930s, most of our leads were women. And now a woman over 40 has a very difficult time being a lead in a movie. We’re seeing some movement. Jennifer Lawrence and Patricia Arquette have made the loud pronouncement about wage disparity, have put a stamp on the idea that we got to pay attention. But we should have been paying attention long before this. I think that African Americans have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough. I think that’s absolutely true
Let’s look back at some of the nominees. I think around 2004, certainly there were black nominees — like Don Cheadle, Morgan Freeman. And all of a sudden, you feel like we’re moving in the wrong direction. There were nominations left off the table. There were four films this year: “Creed” could have gotten nominations; “Concussion” could have gotten Will Smith a nomination; Idris Elba could have been nominated for “Beasts of No Nation;” and “Straight Outta Compton” could have been nominated. And certainly last year, with “Selma” director Ava DuVernay — I think that it’s just ridiculous not to nominate her.
But honestly, there should be more opportunity than that. There should be 20 or 30 or 40 films of the quality that people would consider for the Oscars. By the way, we’re talking about African Americans. For Hispanics, it’s even worse. We need to get better at this. We used to be better at it.
I am disappointed by the lack of inclusion in this year’s Academy Awards nominations. It has me thinking about unconscious prejudice and what merits prestige in our culture. The Awards should not dictate the terms of art in our modern society, but rather be a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has to offer today. I stand with my peers who are calling for change in expanding the stories that are told and recognition of the people who tell them.
JADA PINKETT SMITH
Standing up for her husband after he was snubbed for Concussion, the former Gotham star released a video questioning why they should continue to support the Academy:
The Academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose, to invite whomever they choose, and now I think that it’s our responsibility, now, to make the change. Maybe it is time that we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities and our programs and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit, that are just as good as the so-called ‘mainstream’ ones.
The original Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air dropped some truth on Jada and Will in her own video statement:
There are those out there who really deserved a nod and Idris Elba was one of them. Lord have mercy! Beasts of No Nation was incredible that man is an incredible actor. You are not. Maybe you didn’t deserve a nomination. I don’t think frankly you deserved a Golden Globe nomination with that accent but you got one. Just because the world don’t go the way you want it to go doesn’t mean you can go out and start asking people to sing “We Shall Overcome” for you.You ain’t Barack and Michelle Obama. And y’all need to get over yourselves. You have a huge production company that you only produce your friends and family and yourself. So you are a part of Hollywood, you are part of the system that is unfair to other actors. You know some of us have got mortgages to pay, we got bills to pay, we have bigger shit to worry about than the Oscars.
This is so deeply not about me. This is about children that are gonna sit down and they’re going to watch this show, and they’re not going to see themselves represented.
It turns out that he had no idea his wife was going to make the video she did, but he supports her:
The beauty of Hollywood combined with American ideals is the ultimate dream for humanity: the basis of the American concept of anything is possible, with hard work and dedication, no matter your race or religion, creed, none of that matters in America. I think that diversity is the American superpower. That’s why we are great. So many different people from so many different places adding their ideas and their inspiration and their influences to this beautiful American gumbo and for me, at its best, Hollywood represents and then creates the imagery for that beauty. But for my part, I think I have to fight for and protect the ideals that make our country and make our Hollywood community great. So when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it’s not reflecting that beauty.
When I see this list and series of nominations that come out — and everybody is fantastic and that’s the complexity of this issue, everyone is beautiful and deserving and its fantastic — but it feels like it’s going the wrong direction. When I look at it, the nominations reflect the Academy, the Academy reflects the industry, reflects Hollywood. And then the industry reflects America, it reflects a series of challenges we’re having in our country at the moment. There’s a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony, and that’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind. That’s not the industry, that’s not the America that I want to leave behind.
Maybe Jada and Will should catch a Knicks game with Spike the night of the Oscars because that’s definitely where he’ll be. He never used the word “boycott” as some have assumed, but Spike’s Instagram statement makes it clear that he’s not happy with Hollywood in general right now:
Dr. King Said ‘There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right.’
As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The ‘Real’ Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To ‘Turnaround’ Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With ‘The Green Light’ Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, ‘I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS.’ People, The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White.
Longtime music producer and seven-time Oscar nominee Quincy Jones might attend this year’s show, but on one condition:
They called me to go present with Pharrell and Common. When I’m back [in Los Angeles], I’m going to ask [them] to let me speak for five minutes on the lack of diversity. If not, I’m not going to [present] […] I’ve been involved with Academy longer than I care to remember. I was the first black board member. I hate ‘first black,’ because that means ‘only.’ There are two ways to do it. You can boycott or you can fix it. It’s frightening to see 90 percent white and 80 percent white male.”
MARK RUFFALO AND BRIE LARSON
Ruffalo, nominated for Spotlight, told the BBC:
I’m weighing it, that’s where I’m at right now. I woke up in the morning thinking, ‘what is the right way to do this?’ Because if you look at Martin Luther King’s legacy, what he was saying was that the good people who don’t act are much worse than the wrongdoers who are purposefully not acting and don’t know the right way.
He later clarified on Twitter:
To clear up any confusion. I will be going to the Oscars in support of the victims of clergy Sexual Abuse and good journalism. I do support the Oscar Ban movement’s position that the nominations do not reflect the diversity of our community. The Oscar Ban movement reflects a larger discussion about racism in the criminal justice system.
Brie Larson, who is damn near a lock to win for Room, posted the following on Instagram, first referencing THR’s recent cover story about her:
Thank you @hollywoodreporter for covering this very unique moment in my life! It was wonderful spending time with all of you. Personally, I’m interested in reading their article on #OscarsSoWhite. This is a conversation that deserves attention.
However, Tyrese Gibson, among others, is publicly calling for Rock to step down as host to send a message:
The statement that you make is that you step down. There is no joke that he can crack. There is no way for him to seize the moment and come into this thing and say, ‘I’m going to say this and say that I’m going to address the issue but then I’m still going to keep my gig as the host.’
Goldberg, who is one of only six black actresses to ever win an Academy Award and most certainly the only one to ever host the show, thinks the real problem comes down to the economics of the film industry:
We have this conversation every year, and it pisses me off. There’s not a lot of support for little companies that make movies that may be more diverse than anything else, but you can’t bitch about it just at Oscar time…I am mad! So don’t be surprised.
I make movies for a living. Let me tell you what the problem is. It’s not that the people doing the nominating are too white. They’re not looking at a movie and saying ‘That’s very white.’ ‘I’m not going to nominate that black movie’ … The problem is, people who can help to make movies that have blacks and Latinos and women and all that, that money doesn’t come to you because the idea is that there’s no place for black movies. If there’s more than two black people in a movie, I’m telling you…. There has never been, in the history of movies, a plethora of black movies made because people believe we don’t want to see movies with black people in them. So until you start making movies like The Avengers where you see more than 70 white folks saving the Earth. And I am mad about this, you know why, because I would like to be one of those people saving the Earth, but they’re not coming to me.
Boycotting doesn’t work, and it’s also a slap in the face to Chris Rock. I find that also wrong. So I’m not going to boycott, but I’m going to continue to bitch, as I have, all year round, because I’m tired of seeing movies where no one is represented except a bit of the population.
There’s not one part of the industry that doesn’t need to be addressed, and it’s been this way for 25 years. The needle has hardly moved. It’s cultural, it’s institutional, it’s our society at large, it’s our education system — all of it — before you get to an industry that’s supposed to reflect this beautiful world. And the industry has been building up over a very long time, starting with white men running the studios who hire other people who look like them. It just hasn’t changed that much, and it won’t until there’s a concerted effort on every single front: talent, the executives in the studios, the people we mentor. If you have a person of color directing a film, there’ll be more people of color on the crew and in the movie. You have to overindex now on every hiring opportunity you have. You have to look at women and people of color every time there’s an opening and really not stop until you’ve worked to find qualified candidates. That’s for directing, crewing up, filling a marketing position, finding interns, hiring your next assistant. If you did that, it would go a long way.
At the Academy, the people we’ve hired in the past four years have been between 45 and 50 percent people of color. Our staff also has worked very closely with the executive committees in all the Academy branches to identify talented artists of color to make sure they’re being considered for membership. That has resulted in every class in the last four years being more diverse than the previous classes. We are stepping up our efforts in every area. You’ve already seen a change in membership and new members. You’ve seen a change in our staff. But I was devastated that the acting nominations were all white. There are a lot of artists of color who have put out really good work in more films than in other years. This feels like an inflection point, almost at a point of crisis. Everyone is talking about this. It’s not going to be overnight — just the pace can go faster. As [Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel] said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
PENELOPE ANN MILLER
The actual voting members of the Academy are sticking up for themselves. Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito’s Way, Kindergarten Cop) told THR:
I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren’t nominated. But to imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. I don’t want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I’m certainly not and because I support and benefit from the talent of black people in this business. It was just an incredibly competitive year.
I loved Beasts of No Nation, and I loved Idris Elba in it — I just think not enough people saw it, and that’s sometimes what happens. Straight Outta Compton was a great film; I think it just lost some Academy members who are older. There were a lot of omissions of white people that I think were just as disappointing — I’m sure [Spotlight‘s] Michael Keaton is bummed, you know?
There were an incredible number of films in 2015 that were primarily about white people. Talk to the studios about changing that, not the Academy. There’s only so much we can do. I think when you make race the issue, it can divide people even further, and that’s what I worry about.
Jeremy Larner, a former Civil Rights activist and Oscar-winning writer for the 1972 film The Candidate, personally thinks one of this year’s supposed snubs Straight Outta Compton just isn’t good enough:
I happen to think Straight Outta Compton is not a great film for reasons of structure and substance. I can imagine it is a powerful affirmation for those who share the assumptions of its music and see it as fans. But to me, a good film has to show a lot more than this one does.
As an African-American who previously served as the senior VP of production at Columbia Pictures, Devon Franklin has some ideas for industry-wide initiatives to create more diversity:
What we have seen in the Oscar nominations is only a symptom of the larger problem. It’s not like the Academy and Hollywood system are two independent entities; this is an issue of Hollywood not having enough systems in place to deal with the problems that have been generational in terms of embracing all things that are “different.”
We need a multipronged approach, which involves the studio system, the agency system, the talent representation system. It is not just one. Part of the problem is that, historically, the issue of diversity ends up falling on the shoulders of the human resource departments at the majority of studios and agencies. And unfortunately, the creative initiatives that actually produce change get left untouched.
What needs to be done is that studios should identify how we can increase the number of executives of color in our executive ranks, and not just in the beginning ranks — recruit, retain and then grow them in a system where hopefully they can become senior vps and ultimately chairmen. That has to be done, but it requires resources, and it requires an effort. As it relates to the agency and the talent representation side, similar thing. When you look at the big agencies, how many people of color are agents? The numbers are deplorable.
It’s initiatives, it’s money and it’s follow-through. We’re tired of the lip service. We need to come to the table and really work toward a goal.
People say, “Where do we find those executives?” That is the No. 1 excuse. Because here’s the truth: When it comes to finding new talent and new filmmakers and new writers and new producers, have you ever heard anyone say, “We don’t know where to find them”? No. Because the life of the entire Hollywood system is dependent on new talent. So the same rigor has to go into finding not only executives of color but future producers of color, writers of color, directors of color.
They should be recruiting people when they are in middle school and high school, through to the college level. A lot of African-Americans who have professional aspirations don’t even know there is a whole career possibility for them behind the camera in Hollywood. So it’s a publicity thing and putting the resources there.
That is not something that can happen overnight. It is something that has to be a long-term commitment. But when you look at the NFL, they came up with a framework for how they were going to diversify the coaching ranks, and it has proved successful. Hollywood has to embrace this issue, not be afraid of it.