The shutout of Black and other actors of color from the Oscars nominations announced on Jan. 14 has intensified a debate about the entrenched racism inside the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Prominent Black artists, such as director Spike Lee, actor and producer Jada Pinkett Smith and actor Will Smith, have publicly stated their plans to boycott this year’s Feb. 28 Academy Awards ceremony in protest of the lack of nominations for Black artists in front of and behind the camera.
Chris Rock, the Black comedian and host of the Oscars telecast, has already publicly said that he will address this issue during his opening monologue and throughout the program.
Some white actors, such as Dustin Hoffman, Mark Ruffalo and George Clooney, have also called out racism within the academy and throughout the film industry in light of this recent controversy.
There has been strong criticism for decades about the lack of “diversity” in Hollywood when it comes to quality, nonstereotypical roles for African-American and other actors of color, female and male, due to the gross underrepresentation of Black screenwriters, directors and producers.
However, this year’s Academy Award nominations, coupled with last year’s snubs of Black actors like David Oyelowo for “Selma” and the film’s Black director, Ava DuVernay, have just exacerbated this injustice to an unprecedented level for those inside the industry and for filmgoers.
DuVernay tweeted on Jan. 22, “Marginalized artists have advocated for academy change for DECADES. Actual campaigns. Calls voiced FROM THE STAGE. Deaf ears. Closed minds.” (twitter.com/AVAETC)
April Reign, a managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com, which promotes Black artists on Broadway, created #Oscarssowhite on Twitter in 2014. The hashtag continues to provide an outlet for anger and criticism from activists and people from every walk of life.
The Los Angeles Times interviewed Reign on Jan. 14 about her reaction to the nominations. She illuminated the fact that the academy’s insensitivity toward people of color is just a mere reflection of the entrenched white supremacist policies within the Hollywood industry from top to bottom.
Reign commented: “I’m disappointed, but not surprised. While I appreciated the fact that academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, attempted to make some changes by inviting over 300 new members into the academy this year, we see that that is not enough, that there’s still the erasure of marginalized communities — not just with respect to the academy but also in Hollywood overall.”
Additionally, Reign said: “The academy understandably can only do so much, and they do need to do more, but we also need to focus on the heads of the studios who make the decisions with respect to greenlighting films so that we see more people of color and more LGBTQ people and more people who are differently abled up on the screen telling their stories as well.”
“a private club”
It has been reported that inactive academy members have been allowed to have a voice and vote on who gets nominated and who wins the awards.
Todd Boyd wrote in his Jan. 24 Daily News column, entitled “Full-color movies: Not nearly here yet”: “Turns out, the industry, with precious few exceptions, is white, from top to bottom and side to side. The studio heads and the people who have the power to greenlight movies are overwhelmingly white and male. The same is true of the casting directors, the heads of the various guilds and the people who run the talent agencies.”
The article continues: “Hollywood is basically a private club. And this particular private club has a liberal reputation in the larger culture. In many ways this makes things worse — because liberals can be very defensive when challenged about their own acts of bias. … Being charged with racism is not a good red-carpet look; no doubt an image-obsessed industry will react defensively to contain the public relations damage it is now suffering.”
Boyd concludes: “But the type of change that is needed now is not a desperate, defensive announcement like that made on Friday — that the academy will attempt to double the number of minorities and women in its ranks by 2020. What we need instead is the type of slow but lasting structural change that transforms the entire industry. … Unless this happens, the announced changes are cosmetic, akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.”