Last week, the Oscar nominations came out, and people were livid. A week later, people have gone from just “livid” to “activated by anger.” Injecting my personal opinion for a moment: I’d say being activated by anger is a much more effective state of being rather than just being outraged. Now that folks have become fueled by their disappointment, it seems like it’s finally become inevitable that the Oscars must change (mostly because they’re being forced to change). Here’s what’s happening so far.
•Spike Lee, Michael Moore and Jada Pinkett Smith are boycotting the Oscars. Lee put out a statement on Instagram:
#OscarsSoWhite… Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. 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”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. 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. (Cont’d)
And Pinkett Smith put out a video suggesting that POC actors create their own form of recognition outside of the Oscars. (Also: yes, I know about Janet Hubert’s—aka Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—video “discussing” Pinkett Smith. No, I’m not talking about it; I’d recommend going to Awesomely Luvvie for a hilarious play-by-play of the video).
Snoop Dogg backed up Pinkett Smith’s call to boycott, saying in a very succinct way, “Fuck the Oscars, fuck the Grammys,” saying how the “old slavery bullshit-ass awards show” model and the Hollywood industry takes minority culture without acknowledging where the culture came from.
Moore told The Wrap that he’s “happy” to join the boycott, saying, “I thought about this all day, and I don’t plan to go to the show, I don’t plan to watch it and I don’t plan to go to an Oscar party. And I say that as a proud member of the Academy, as someone who still sits on the executive board [of the Documentary Branch], as someone who knows full well that [AMPAS president] Cheryl [Boone Isaacs] and [CEO] Dawn Hudson are doing their best to fix the situation.” He also said that having no diverse nominations two years in a row is “crazy,” and that “if it will help to lend my name to what Spike and Jada are doing, I’m hoping to be a symbolic participant in this [boycott].”
Al Sharpton is also calling for a boycott, so the situation right now is fluid, probably right up until the Oscars this February.
• Numerous stars are speaking out against the Oscars’ all-white nominations, including Straight Outta Compton producer Will Packer, who said to his Academy colleagues “WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. Period.”
George Clooney told Today, “I think African Americans have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough.” He also talked about how women and Hispanics aren’t getting recognized enough in the industry as well. “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?”
Don Cheadle joked that the only job he’d be able to have at the Oscars is parking cars:
— Don Cheadle (@IamDonCheadle) January 17, 2016
and David Oyelowo has sounded off on the Oscars, saying during an evening honoring Boone Isaacs, “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,” he said at the King Legacy Awards. “The Academy has a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved,” he said. He spoke about meeting with Boone Isaacs after Selma, discussing what went wrong during last year’s nominations (as you might remember, Selma was also at the center of nomination snubbing controversy). “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.” He, like everyone who has commented on this, expressed support for Boone Isaacs and the hope that she continues the work needed to get the problem fixed.
• Boone Isaacs herself issued a longer statement after her initial comments about the Oscar nominations. The comments, below, feature an intense expression of getting the ball rolling even faster.
A statement from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs pic.twitter.com/Nqhgc7sbqG
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) January 19, 2016
Overall, the focus has been primarily on black actors and filmmakers being recognized, but let’s not forget all of the other minorities (race, gender, sexual orientation) that haven’t been acknowledged in film for so long, if ever. For instance, The Revenant features First Nations actors, but the film itself isn’t primarily following the story of a First Nations person; it’s following Leonardo DiCaprio. Also, there hasn’t been a single American film featuring an Asian lead or Asian cast nominated, ditto for American-made Hispanic and Spanish films. Also don’t forget that films like Tangerine, which features trans women of color, didn’t get a nod, while an establishment film like Carol and The Danish Girl did, even though the latter two films do represent otherwise overlooked stories.
In short, the Academy has to learn that a human being doesn’t just fit into one mold. Stories that are recognized need to show humanity in all its complexity; a trans woman or man of color wants to see themselves on screen just like an Asian woman who is also a lesbian or a black straight man who is also part Native American. There are so many intersections in a person’s life, and it makes too much sense that the film and TV industry represent that and recognize that for its achievement. TV has made great strides this year, and diverse TV of all kinds were given well-deserved accolades. It’s time film get on the same pioneering path TV has been traversing, and if they don’t want their bottom line to dwindle, they’d better do it soon.
The throughline of the conversations this time around is that minorities don’t have to give our money to the film industry if we don’t want to; we can take our talents and dollars and reinvest in us, just as Pinkett Smith said in her video. That idea was the throughline of Ryan Coogler and #BLACKOUT’s #MLKNOW event. A tool of revolution is an economic boycott, and if push comes to shove, things just might come to that if Hollywood’s not careful.