Oscars diversity controversy spurs academy to promise change
Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith highly critical of what Lee calls 'lily white' Oscars
Though lauding the "extraordinary achievements" of this year's nominees, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said she was "both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation and it's time for big changes."
Isaacs, who is the group's first African-American (and third female) leader, released the statement on Monday, as the U.S. observed the federal holiday marking the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
For several years, the academy has attempted to diversify its membership — infamously older, white and male — "but the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly," she said, noting specifically that the academy will review its membership recruitment for the class of 2016.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Times conducted a study of the academy's membership and claimed that at that time, 94 per cent of members were Caucasian and two per cent black. The study found that 77 per cent of members were male and that the median age was 62.
"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," Isaacs said.
- Oscars 2016 nominations prompt concerns about snubs, white-washing
- Oscars 2015: Thousands boycott Academy Awards over lack of diversity
The so-called #OscarsSoWhite controversy was revived last week when, for a second consecutive year, the film academy unveiled yet another slate of all-white acting nominees for this year's Oscars. A handful of notable performances — including Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan in Creed and Benicio Del Toro in Sicario — had earned critical praise and were widely expected to be nominated.
Selma star Oyelowo blasts academy
British actor Oyelowo was infamously snubbed by the academy last year for his acclaimed turn as Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2014 drama Selma, as was the film's director, Ava DuVernay.
I would like to walk away and say it doesn't matter, but it does.- David Oyelowo
"We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence. I would like to walk away and say it doesn't matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in."
"[The academy] 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 [the U.S.]"
Boycott and backlash
Director Spike Lee, whom the academy presented an honorary award at the 2015 Governors Awards in November, said in a lengthy Instagram post Monday that he "cannot support" the "lily white" Oscars, though he also acknowledged that the annual award show was not the sole source of the problem.
"It's in the executive offices of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks. This is where the gatekeepers decide what gets made," he wrote. "The truth is we ain't in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lily white."
"Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power," Pinkett Smith said. "And we are a dignified people and we are powerful."
Boycotting doesn't work and it's also a slap in the face to Chris Rock.- Whoopi Goldberg
The issue isn't with the Oscars but with Hollywood's lack of financing for diverse films, whether starring blacks or Latinos or even women in prominent roles, former Oscars host Whoopi Goldberg said on the talk show The View on Tuesday.
Janet Hubert, who appeared on the 1990s series Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as Smith's aunt, also criticized the boycott and, specifically, Pinkett Smith's message.
"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 [only produces] 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. So get real."