“The award for Best Picture goes to Straight Outta Compton!”
“The Oscar for Best Actress goes to…Naomie Harris, Spectre!”
“The Best Actress award goes to Adepero Oduye, The Big Short!”
“And the award for Best Director goes to Ryan Coogler, for Creed!”
“And the Oscar for Best Actor goes to Michael B. Jordan, for Creed!”
“And the Best Actor award goes to Idris Elba, for Beasts of No Nation!”
“The best actress award goes to…Jada Pinkett Smitth, Magic Mike XXL!”
“The best actor award goes to John Boyega, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens!”
Were you hoping to hear any of the above at the 88th annual Academy Awards on February 28? I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it’s not going to happen, bc no black actors or directors have been nominated for an Academy Award this year. Guess we have to dust off the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.
Coined in 2015 by editor and former attorney April Reign, the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was created to express the frustration at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for only recognizing the accomplishments of white people. By nominating only white actors and directors, the message being sent is that the skills and accomplishments of black people in Hollywood are not commendable. And yet, given the numerous roles played by black actors in 2015, it is not plausible that none gave superior performances worthy of merit. The decision on the part of the Oscar nomination committee to exclude black actors and directors once against caused an uproar on social media with various celebrities expressing their frustration with the Oscar committee, with Jada Pinkett-Smith leading the charge:
“At the Oscars…people of color are always welcomed to give out awards…even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments,” she wrote on her Facebook and Twitter pages. “Should people of color refrain from participating all together? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of deep disappointment, J.”
In response to the lack of diversity among the Oscar nominees, Pinkett-Smith decided to boycott the Oscars. Her husband, Will Smith (who was also snubbed by the Oscar committee for his role in Concussion) quickly followed suit. In a Good Morning, America interview Smith told host Robin Roberts:
“[For] my part, I think I have to protect and fight for the ideals that make our country and our Hollywood community great,” he continued. “And so when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it’s not reflecting that beauty.”
Although his wife’s call for a boycott was partly motivated by him getting snubbed for his role in “Concussion,” Smith insists the root of the issue is much bigger than that.
“This is so deeply not about me,” he said. “This is about children that are going to sit down and watch this show and they’re not going to see themselves represented.
“There’s a regressive slide toward separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony,” he added. “And that’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind.”
The criticism did not stop there. Spike Lee weighed in as well:
Spike Lee is promising to spend the night of the Academy Awards next month across the country at a New York Knicks game in Madison Square Garden. But the director told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that he has not called for a broader boycott of this year’s Oscars despite his criticism of the lack of diverse nominees in this year’s crop of nominees.
“Here’s the thing. I have never used the word boycott,” Lee told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “All I said was my beautiful wife Tanya, we’re not coming. That’s it, and I gave the reasons. I never used the word ‘boycott.’”
Robert L. Johnson, founder of BET, put forth several ideas to improve diversity in Hollywood. Among them:
Improve casting of minority actors and actresses in roles outside of black-themed films. “For example,” Johnson asked, “would films like ‘Pretty Woman’ or ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ [have] been less creative if the characters were interracial?”
Encourage studio hiring of minorities in their creative and development departments, including executives with the power to greenlight films. Johnson said such changes in television had resulted in a number of Emmy nominations for minorities.
Actor Mark Ruffalo weighed in as well, attacking the country’s ‘white privilege racism’ problem:
Ruffalo told BBC Breakfast that the “entire American system is rife with white privilege racism,” adding: “It goes into our justice system.” The 48-year-old actor said he was mulling joining the boycott advocated by Jada Pinkett Smith and civil rights leader Al Sharpton, though he later confirmed on Twitter that he would be attending.
Ruffalo, who is up for best supporting actor for his role in the Catholic church abuse drama Spotlight – the bookmakers’ favourite to take best picture – wrote: “To clear up any confusion. I will be going to the Oscars in support of the victims of clergy Sexual Abuse and good journalism.”
On her Facebook page, actress Reese Witherspoon expressed her disappointment:
I really appreciated this article in TIME on the lack of racial and gender diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations.
So disappointed that some of 2015’s best films, filmmakers and performances were not recognized…
Nothing can diminish the quality of their work, but these filmmakers deserve recognition. As an Academy member, I would love to see a more diverse voting membership.
The backlash over the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations also led to calls for Chris Rock to back out of hosting the Oscars this year. While Rock has decided to remain on as the host, he plans on using his monologue to address the issue of diversity in Hollywood.
In the face of mounting criticism, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) issued a statement regarding Hollywood’s diversity problem:
A statement from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs pic.twitter.com/Nqhgc7sbqG
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) January 19, 2016
The anger over Oscar snubs of African-Americans appears to have reached a tipping point as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recently announced dramatic changes intended to increase diversity in their membership:
The board committed to doubling the number of women and minority members in the academy by 2020.
It also approved a series of changes limiting members’ lifetime voting rights. “Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade,” the academy statement said. “In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars. “
These changes won’t eliminate the racial disparities in Hollywood of course, as the problems run deeper than a disproportionately low number of People of Color among the Academy. They do however, signal that the powers that be in Hollywood are poised to make changes for the better. While these steps should have been taken long ago, now that they are, hopefully they will provide sufficient impetus to make structural changes in the entertainment industry so that ethnic and other minority groups receive the recognition and representation they deserve.