Search Results for: #OscarsSoWhite

Exclusive Interview: April Reign Discusses the Effect of #OscarsSoWhite

#OscarsSoWhite has been the headlining news topic, and with so many opinions out there about the hashtag and the movement, the one opinion that’s probably the most important to understand is the opinion of the hashtag’s creator herself. April Reign, managing editor of Broadway Black, spoke with JUST ADD COLOR about the creation of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy’s decision to change the status quo, the fallout surrounding the new Academy rules, and what she hopes people take away from the movement.

What prompted you to make #OscarsSoWhite last year? Did you think it would find the life it has found on Twitter?

Creating the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag happened very organically, in which I was sitting in my family room watching the Oscar nomination announcements. …I was just disappointed in the lack of representation of people of color and marginalized communities, especially in the acting categories but also behind the camera [like] the directors, especially last year with Ava DuVernay for the movie Selma and just overall—directors, cinematographers and screenwriters and so forth. I…was venting my frustration at that time. The very first tweet was “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.” It took off, and I had no idea then—and even today—that it would be as pervasive and as international as it has become. I’m humbled by the support I’ve received and that the hashtag has received. It’s gratifying to see that the voices of so many have made a difference.

Last year, #OscarsSoWhite hit a nerve, but this year, that nerve was hit in an even bigger way. What do you think prompted the scale of the outrage we’ve seen?

I’ve been asked that question a couple of times now and I really don’t know. The only thing that I can think is that perhaps people thought that last year was just a fluke that people of color and marginalized communities weren’t represented, and when it happened this year with the major acting categories, people said, “Oh, maybe this is an issue. Maybe this is a pattern, so let’s take more of a look at the underlying statement that #OscarsSoWhite is trying to make.”

I can say that a couple of days before the nominations were announced in 2016, people were coming to me saying “We’ve seen some of the predictions as to who the nominations are going to recognize, so maybe it’s going to #OscarsSoWhite again.” …And in fact, it definitely experienced a resurgence. While I did several interviews last year and talked about it quite a bit, I definitely did not see the amount of interest I’ve seen this year, not just nationally, but internationally. I’ve done interviews with organizations in New Zealand and Australia and Ireland and London and more BBC organizations than I knew even existed. Those are not interviews I did in 2015.

How has it been to see the reactions, both good and bad, to #OscarsSoWhite?

I’m gratified by the support, and we see that the Academy has made substantial effort to address the issues underlying in the hashtag. With respect to the criticism, I have yet to see any that was well founded. …I can give you the critiques and how they’re unfounded, but none of them really held any water when you shine a light on the underlying issues. I guess because I’m so active on social media, especially on Twitter, you’re readily available for anyone to come at you with memes and criticism of the hashtag, of you, and misunderstanding of what it’s really about. I hope that I’ve handled all of that with grace and really stayed consistent with the underlying issue, which is the lack of inclusion and diversity in film.

From what I’ve seen, you’re handling it great. 

Thank you. …There are definitely some recurring themes that sort of come at me, like “You’re making this an all black thing.” No. I’ve always said it’s all people of color, it’s all marginalized communities. It’s not just a race issue, it’s also a gender issue and a sexual orientation issue and an issue for differently-abled communities to be represented.

[Some say], “If you look at the past 15 years, black people have gotten 10 percent of the awards even though they’re 12 percent of the population, so that’s roughly equal.” Well, that’s fantastic for the last 20 years, but the Oscars have been around for 80. You can’t just cherry-pick the facts to support your narrative. And even if that is true with respect to black people, it’s not true with respect to all people of color. The fact that I’m black doesn’t mean that I’m only advocating for black people. Let’s talk about the number of Hispanic actors and actresses or Latino/Latina actors and actresses, or Asian actors an actresses. This affects everyone and everyone should be included.

If you really run the numbers from 80 years forward, it’s still even taking into account [that] it was 37 years between Sidney Poitier winning the first Oscar for Best Actor as a black man and Denzel [Washington] winning it…and there’s no inbetween. I find it inconceivable that there were no qualifying performances within that 37 year span. Similarly, we’ve had one black actress with Best Actress within the entire span of the Oscars, and that was Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball. You can’t tell me that there haven’t been outstanding performances by black actresses. Even [with nominations], there were films who weren’t nominated that are fantastic, and that’s just with respect to black people. Clearly, there have been no Asian women, no Latina women, who have ever won [Best Actress]; why is that? In 2009, the first woman [Kathyrn Bigelow] wins for Best Director? It’s inconceivable to me that we are here in 2016 and we can rattle off on our fingers, with some to spare, the number of people of color and marginalized communities who have been properly [awarded] for their work.

And also with The Revenant; the film is being celebrated for having a large Native American supporting cast, but none of them are getting nominated for their work; Leonardo DiCaprio–even though it’s great how much he has spoken out on Native American issues on their behalf–is getting nominated, and not a Native member of the supporting cast.

That’s exactly right. …Hollywood is supposed to be a liberal bastion of whatever, and yet there are still some issues. I saw that Matt Damon spoke out…about how there should be more and so and so forth, but we saw how he treated Effie Brown on Project Greenlight. It’s like, but, bruh, that wasn’t even a full year ago! [He] said [on Project Greenlight], and I’m paraphrasing poorly here, something to the effect that diversity takes its point from casting, but not necessarily from who’s behind the camera. That’s what I took from it, anyway. So yeah, we want to have a diverse cast onscreen, but that doesn’t apply to who’s behind the screen, and that’s really the issue because it’s so important that these stories are told, but also who is telling the story. Who is the director? Who is the screenwriter? Who is the producer? What experiences are they bringing to this project and that was borne out this year with Straight Outta Compton. The only thing it was nominated for was Best Original Screenplay, but the screenwriters are white. So that’s an issue as well.

Something you said a while ago goes into one of my questions: Some of the conversations surrounding #OscarsSoWhite have been, unfairly, categorizing it as being  primarily focused on black actors and as a black and white issue. How do you feel about some people keeping the conversation in a binary mode of thought instead of thinking about how Hollywood portrays all minorities?

I think it’s unnecessarily limiting and I think it’s unfortunate that they can’t get out of that box for themselves because I’m not in that box. I know why they’re doing it and I’ve had brought to me “Oh, you’re being a racist.” It’s not racism to speak truth about the lack of existence of roles for people of color. Speaking facts isn’t racism in and of itself. It it is without merit because I have never made this a black/white issue.

It’s not clear to me why people think that is. I don’t know if it’s because I’m black and they can’t see past who I am and understand that I’m multifaceted, or if it’s just easier for them to think in binary terms. But that’s not what #OscarsSoWhite is about at all. Race is just one portion of it; it’s all marginalized communities, and within race, it’s not just black people; it’s definitely about Asian people. It ‘s definitely about Latinos and Latinas and Hispanics. It’s about everyone who should be represented on the screen.

After the nominations came out, Jada Pinkett Smith released a video stating how people of color should consider reinvesting in our own community and celebrating our own. Some believe the Oscars is a lost cause, seeing how it was created to celebrate white actors in particular. Some people also view the Oscars fight as minority voices vying for white validation while not uplifting (or even attending) other awards shows like the NAACP and BET Awards. What do you think of these sentiments and the fight for the Oscars?

I feel very strongly that we should support those award shows and programs that celebrate our individuality and uniqueness. I hope that one of the outcomes of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag is that more people of color and marginalized communities continue to support and support even more the NAACP Image Awards, the Alma Awards, the BET Awards, the Soul Train Music Awards versus the Grammys [in relation to music] because it’s so very important. Those award shows were borne out of the same frustration that I have; the lack of representation of the so-called “mainstream” awards, so we had to make our own. But I will also say that I think we can multitask. We can celebrate our own and still critique for better or worse the pinnacle in film. Whether you are a fry cook or a corporate CEO, you want to be recognized for your achievements amongst your peers. If the Oscars are considered to be the top of that, why wouldn’t someone, anyone, want to receive that recognition?

We also know that very often, having “Oscar-nominated” or “Oscar winner” after your name, it brings with it some benefits. It may mean that it’s easier for someone to land a role or to even to get into auditions. It may mean you can command a higher salary or get taken more seriously the next time you want to take a chance on a film. So it does matter, and if the other award shows are uplifted to the  extent that they are on the same level of the Oscars, then fantastic. That just gives everyone more opportunity to shine.

The Academy has taken the mobilization of stars and fans seriously and released a statement promising sweeping change to the Academy and how it does business. All of this came about because of the hashtag’s popularity. How do you feel that #OscarsSoWhite has brought about this change?

I’m very encouraged by the announcement that was made by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. I appreciate that she spearheaded this issue because I know change is never easy–pushing against the status quo and something that has been in place for over 80 years had to have been difficult.  I was happy to see that the vote by the Board of Governors was unanimous; I think that’s important because it sends a message that they are serious about making changes with respect to diversity and inclusion. We’ll see how the changes are implemented and what type of pushback they’ll receive, but I still think there’s more to be done by the Academy and definitely by Hollywood.

To that point, there have been several stars old and new decrying the lack of diversity and some boycotting or standing with the boycott. Meanwhile, we’ve seen some stand against change (particularly today, with Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine, Julie Delphy and producer Gerald Molen) and other actors and actresses who have decided to remain anonymous speak out against the hashtag and the Academy’s decision. Do you think this divide is indicative of the state of Hollywood at large? To me, it seems like Hollywood’s facade of liberalism has been taken away. 

Yeah, I think that what we know—I think the numbers are from 2012—at that time, that the Academy is 94 percent white, over 75 percent male, and the average age was 63. So even though Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs invited 300 new members to the Academy; that was 300 [versus] 6000. Change is hard, so the Academy members who, for example, have not been active in film in the last decade and have now had their votes taken away, of course they’re going to speak out. It’s a change to the life that they’ve known. But I think that when the dust settles, the Academy members was the change for the better.

Although I have been pushing for more diversity with respect to people of color and marginalized communities, this is also a benefit to the white people in the industry because it gives them more of an opportunity to interact with—and act and direct and produce with—people of color and those marginalized communities that they might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. So I think everybody can win from this, and if it spurs more seasoned Academy members to get back involved in film so they can regain their ability to vote, then all the better, because there’s a reason why they’re already in the Academy. At some point, they were Oscar-nominated or Oscar winners, which means they’ve put out quality work. If they’ve been resting on their laurels for 30 years and come back into the Academy, even better.

The Academy gave themselves a deadline of 2020 for their changes to bear fruit; What kind of Hollywood would you like to see by then?

I hope to see a Hollywood that’s more diverse and inclusive than it is now. I think there’s no shortage of talented people of color and marginalized communities out there. I am hopeful that the Academy will proactively seek out these creatives, these artists, and welcome them with open arms because there are stories that need to be told. I think it’s important  and hope that that the Academy, in increasing its diversity, pressures Hollywood to do the same because the Academy can only nominate films that are made. So it’s fantastic if the Academy becomes more diverse. But if Hollywood isn’t doing the same and is only making the same homogeneous movies year after year and aren’t being thoughtful about who can play these roles or who should tell the stories behind the camera, then still, when it’s nomination time, we won’t see any difference even if he Academy wants to see more films that are representative of everyone in society.

That goes into my next question : What are your hopes for the Academy? The Academy’s statement gives the sentiment of the Academy wanting to lead from in front, not from behind; do you think the Academy can change the industry from the front?

I think they can. I think the Academy is large enough that they can exert significant influence over Hollywood, but it really comes down to the studio heads being willing to consider groups that don’t necessarily look like them and don’t have shared experiences when determining which films they’re going to greenlight. That’s really the issue, that those perspectives must be shared. I’m hoping that there will be a significant push from the Academy to Hollywood to make these stories a priority.

There are those out there who still have their head in the sand when it comes to acknowledging the racism of the Oscars and the Hollywood industry. What message do you have for those who still don’t see a problem with the Oscar nomination process and Hollywood in general?

…I strongly believe that nominations should be made based on merit, but what we know, at least before the announcement, is that Academy members are not required to watch the films before they vote. If that is the case, then one can not say that the nominations or the winners are based on merit. If the argument is that only the best people should get nominated, I agree. But how are we ensuring that the best people are even being seen? I encourage everyone to dive into the rules of the Academy because they’re on their website and [see] how decisions are actually made….For the first vote, you have to vote within your category, so directors only vote for directors and screenwriters only vote for screenwriters. We have one female in the director category period. We have one Asian man [Ang Lee] in the directors portion of the Academy period. Why is that? You can’t say there haven’t been qualified people, but if that’s all we see, and based on the numbers, it’s overwhelmingly older white men who aren’t viewing the films before they vote, then how can we say the votes are based on merit and how can we ensure that the best films are being seen?

…I think it’s imperative that you challenge yourself and see a movie that you might not normally see…Let’s just talk about when you get nominated…once you get to the second vote, everyone can vote for everything. You’ve got to watch all five films. If you’re voting for Best Actress, you’ve got to watch all five films and make your choice. You can’t base it on that a friend of yours told you it was a good film, or you really like their ad in Variety so you’re voting for them, or you feel like someone’s just due for an Oscar because they were snubbed in the past, so let’s vote for them now. That’s what happens. Or, you recognize the name of the person, and since you don’t know any of the other names, you just go with whom you know, and, to my knowledge, that’s what happens, because if you’re not watching the other films, then on what are you basing your vote? It has to be that. It has to be some personal reason as opposed to something unbiased based on the quality of the work. Therefore, it’s not based on merit, and that’s [the point] I’m trying to get back to. Make sure that diverse and inclusive films are being made, look at those, nominate those for the first round, and after that, go see all five within the category and choose which one you think is the best. That makes sense to me and I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t agree to that. [The votes] should always be merit-based, but make sure the net is cast wide enough so all the films that are great in that particular year get a shot at a nomination.

#OscarsSoWhite Gets Academy Results and Old Guard Fallout

There has been too much Oscars news lately! Well, complaining is wrong; there’s been just the right amount of Oscars news since it’s actually news affecting change. And in the past 24+ hours, there has been tons of movement (and tons of upset). Here’s what’s happened in four sections.

The facts

The big fact of the weekend is that the Oscars has changed its rules. In a sweeping historic move, the Academy has basically stuck it to the old white members in its ranks.

Academy-press-release

Needless to say, people aren’t happy about this, but that comes later in this article.

The support (and supportive critiques)

Many in the acting world and April Reign, the creator of #OscarsSoWhite have given their support (and in some cases, their constructive criticism) of the new changes.

“I’m very encouraged. I think that the changes that will be made will make a significant different,” Reign told the Los Angeles Times. I appreciate the fact that the vote was unanimous, which indicates to me that the academy is serious about making the organization momre inclusive and more diverse. I’ve spoken about my concern that some of the older academy members still have a vote even though they aren’t active in the film industry an that appears to be addressed. The fact that they will be proactively looking for more diverse members is [also] exciting.”

Ava DuVernay tweeted this:

Don Cheadle said during a Sundance interview that the changes are stage one in a much-needed process. “I think it is a step in the right direction, a needed step,” he said, according to Deadline. “But people really have to have access to the stories they want to tell. So what we really need is people in positions to greenlight those stories, not a hunk of metal.” (I’m assuming the “hunk of metal” Cheadle is referring to is the Oscar itself.) 

Oscar nominated director Alejandro Iñárritu said during the PGA Breakfast that the new steps the Academy is taking is a start, but change needs to happen outside of the Academy and with the industry itself. 

“I think the things the Academy has just made is a great step, but the Academy really is at the end of the chain,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Iñárritu also said, “Hopefully, active change, positive cahnge, they can start at the beginning of the chain. The complexity of the demographics of this country should be reflected not only at the end of the chain.” He also added that “cinema is the mirror where we can all see ourselves.”

Screenwriter/director/producer Jonathan Demme issued an op-ed for Deadline saying that the Academy needs to change the current nominations to reflect the diversity that was a part of the 2015 film year. He provides the example of Tangerine and how the Academy clearly ignored it. To quote him:

“Superb in every aspect and featuring dazzling, heroic performances by fantastic LGBTQ actors in leading roles, Tangerine had no campaign, but someone managed to send out screeners. The film was shot—brilliantly–on i-phones (!!!!!). This hugely entrtainiing and ground-breaking film brings fresh meaning to the “outstanding achievement” verbiage that defines the point of the Oscars. Did enough Academy voters—overwhelmingly older, white males—watch the Tangerine screener to give it a shot at nomination? Does our membership gravitate—maybe more or less exclusively—to white stories, white actors, white filmmakers? It sure feels that way, doesn’t it?”

These comments aren’t necessarily a reaction to the Academy’s changes, but Viola Davis’ comments during Elle’s 6th Annual Women in Television Dinner said the members of the Academy should ask themselves some questions about the industry. 

“How many black films are being produced every year?” she said, according to BET. “How are they being distributed? The films that are being made—are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role? Can you cast a black woman in that role? Can you cast a black man in that role?”

Davis also touched on the pay discrepancy, which is even worse for actresses of color than it is for white actresses. “You could probably line up all the A-list black actresses out there [and] they probably don’t make what one A-list white woman makes in one film. That’s the problem. You can change thee Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?”

Malik Yoba wrote this on Instagram, stating that being included in Hollywood shouldn’t be viewed as “a birthright”:

Only in NY will this happen. Such an interesting time we’re living in. The more things change the more things stay the same. A function of living inauthentically and disconnected from the eternal truth that God is love and we were all made in His image. From atheist to believers one thing is certain, everybody wants to feel loved, honored, included, acknowledged and feel the support of their peers. Working in a business that doesn’t always see the big picture is a challenge but being included is not a given or a birthright. All we can do as individuals is continue to honor our gifts and work toward building our own pathways to get our stories out to the masses. None of this is easy and every little bit counts including the protestations. Happy Friday Fam!! It’s a great day to be alive as we take nothing from granted 🙏🏾 #truth #honor #oscars #hollywood #america #actor #blessing #pop #popculture

A photo posted by malikyoba (@malikyoba) on

http://www.thewrap.com/danny-devito-oscar-diversity-america-racist-country-genocide/

Marlon Wayans, on the other hand provides a perspective that could be argued as missing the point. During an Essence Live appearance for his latest film, Fifty Shades of Black, Wayans said that while the discussion about diversity in Hollywood is important, showing up to support minority films is even more important.

“How about we all show up and we support these movies? A lot of times we complain but yet we sit in our seat opening weekend and we don’t support our films,” he told Essence. “Everybody out there, come support because Hollywood is not about black and white. Hollywood is about gree. So why don’t we support our own, make sure we make the green because as long as you make thee green, we can make more movies and then we won’t have these discussions.”

(Some would say that Wayans’ point dodges the actual issue at hand; it’s not about people not supporting minority films, because people did and have been supporting minority films—Straight Outta Compton doesn’t get to number one at the box office and stay there through just critical support. The real issue is getting the films that the people love awarded for their achievements.)

Some other things of note are some highly interesting and necessary articles about the racist underside of the Oscars and the industry at large. Entertainment Weekly has teased their magazine interview with Sacheen Littlefeather, the woman who stood on stage and delivered Marlon Brando’s message to the Academy in 1973 when he boycotted on behalf of Native Americans. NBC Latino provides a list of Latino films that could easily be nominated for an Oscar. Mashable also has an article addressing how Latino, Asian, and Native American actors are hardly nominated for an Oscar. (This also goes into why the industry needs to be changed; currently, the industry itself doesn’t greenlight enough films telling Latino, Native American and Asian stories, and when there are Latino, Native or Asian characters in films, they are sometimes played by white or “beige” actors, such as Emma Stone in Aloha and Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, while Benedict Wong is stuck with playing what could be racist stereotype—Doctor Strange’s manservant/sidekick.)

 

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

 

 

The outrage

The outrage to #OscarsSoWhite took a while to whip up, but it came, especially after the Academy changed its rules. Friday alone saw Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine and Julie Delphy saying annoying, tone-deaf and, in Rampling and Delphy’s cases, extremely racist things.

Rampling, who is nominated for an Oscar for her role in 45 Years, said the Oscars controversy was “racist to whites.”

“One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list,” she said to French radio station Europe 1, according to The Guardian. She also said in response to a question about if the Academy should have quotas, “Why classify people? These days everyone is more or less accepted…People will always say: ‘Him, he’s less handsome’; ‘Him, he’s too black’; ‘He is too white’…someone will always be saying ‘You are too’ [this or that]…But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?”

She later walked back her statement after a vicious roasting on Twitter. According to USA Today, the statement, which was given to CBS News, states, “I regret that my comments could have been misinterprted. I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration.” The apology-PR damage control also stated, “Diversity in our industry is an important issue that needs to be addressed. I am highly encouraged by the changes announced today by the academy to diversify its membership.”

Michael Caine said that black actors should “be patient,” a statement that was in response to the fear of the Academy using quotas, but it’s also a statement  that could be uncomfortably interpreted as telling minorities to wait their turn. As he told Radio 4 according to the Independent, “There’s loads of black actors. In the end you can’t vote for an actor because he’s black. You can’t say ‘I’m going to vote for him, he’s not very good, but he’s black, I’ll vote for him…Of course [nominations and wins] will come. It took me years to get an Oscar, years.”

Julie Delpy also put in her two cents, saying that it’s harder to be a woman in showbusiness than it is a black person. “Sometimes, I wish I were African-American because people don’t bash them afterwards,” she said to The Wrap. Her statement widely ignores the fact that 1) black women are also women, which illustrates why people should have intersectional feminism and 2) that all women of color including black women have it easier in Hollywood, when women of color have historically had it much harder in terms of finding roles, pay equal to their white female counterparts, and the respect white actresses receive on a daily basis.

The real fire came when the Academy released their new rules, leading many in Hollywood, mostly those members among the older set, to release angry statements. You can read many of their statements at The Hollywood Reporter (and again), The Los Angeles Times, and Deadline, but most of them (including those who were smart enough to remain anonymous for fear of backlash) include feelings of resentment at what they feel is the Academy’s implication that their age makes them unable to judge talent as well as the implication that their voting strategies have been biased (or as many have said, “racist.”)

While the angry members are the most vocal right now, there are quite a few members who are glad of the changes, including those who are of the older set. These members recognize that there’s a clear bias at work when most of the Academy is made of old white men. 72-year-old actor Robert Walden summed it up perfectly when emailing his response to the Times. “I can tell you now that if the voters had actually viewed ‘Beasts of No Nation’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ the situation might have been different. But because of the subject matter, or presumed understanding of what the films were about, I’d venture half the members did not see thoe films. …I feel a significant segment of the older members might assume that certain films don’t appeal or ‘speak’ to them. That they speak to a ‘niche’ and not to us all.”

Takeaways

There’s going to be tons of Oscar talk for the weeks leading up to Feb. 28, the night the Oscars airs (still hosted by Chris Rock, thank goodness; get your popcorn ready for viewing some uncomfortable faces in the audience). But I have read enough to give some takeaways, and these takeaways are going to be just the same now as they will be in the future.

The older members who are upset (including, in an ironic twist, Tab Hunter, who is for all intents and purposes the first outed gay actor of the 1950s and 1960s) are upset for very human, very selfish reasons. Their view is that the Academy sees them as not just old, but antiquated and out of touch with the times. To a certain degree, the Academy’s view is just that; they are too out of touch and too set in their ways to see past what they think is and isn’t art worthy of being nominated. That’s a problem, and that problem doesn’t just occur with Hollywood; it occurs in many other segments of life in which an older body is trying to impose old rules on a younger, more agile, more integrated set of individuals. America, to be frank, was founded because of an older “parent” trying to rule a younger country who wanted to fail or succeed by their own terms. Just like with the War for Independence, the Academy and its sympathizers are now rebelling against some of the older set who are comfortable having things just as they were. There’s a historical analog to this too: the South wanted things to stay the same because many white southerners were comfortable with Jim Crow and other segregationist tactics because they served their interests. When stuff started changing, they started rebelling against the tides of change. They ultimately lost that fight, for the most part, and the Old Guard at the Academy’s going to lose their fight as well.

Perhaps, some of the old members who feel like they’ve lost their way will find another way to assert what remains of their power, but it’ll never be like how it was before. Hollywood itself won’t be the same after this controversy, because now the onus will not just be on the Academy to provide a facade for diversity; it’ll be up to everyone who runs anything dealing with entertainment. In order for there to be films to nominate, there have to be more films featuring non-white, non-male stories getting greenlit. There has to be more of a reliance on the now and less of a reliance on, as some members intimated, an “I’m not racist” card just because they might have participated in the Civil Rights Movement in some way.

This gets to my last point: Right before writing this, I read this tweet:

I think that’s true for many things, and it’s definitely true for this. Everyone who has had their feelings hurt by #OscarsSoWhite is quick to say “I’m not a racist.” The Academy’s changes aren’t fearful for some just because it’s change; the changes are being met with fear because some of these people know that there’s more they could have done to prevent this nominations fiasco in the first place. Like what Walden said, if half of the members who didn’t view Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation actually watched the films instead of writing them off as niche, then the nominations card would look completely different. Basically, I personally think many of the ones crying foul are actually crying out because of their guilt. Who wants to own up to the fact that they might have had a damaging, insidious bias in their voting when they thought they were voting strictly on talent?

Some folks in the Academy are, if going by their statements (especially the anonymous ones) harbor clear racist sentiments. Others are ill-informed and don’t even understand the implications of what they’re saying. Others are still holding onto the good (or guilt-easing actions) they did in the ’60s to justify “voting on talent” today. But there are others up and down in the Academy who believe these changes are good for the organization and that, sadly, they are necessary. I think so, too. These changes shouldn’t have had to be implemented, but Hollywood is nothing but a reflection of society. If we all want a seat at the table–the Academy, Hollywood or otherwise–then the table has to be retrofitted or completely remodeled to accommodate. Cheryl Boone Isaacs has taken the first step towards a remodel, and now the rest of Hollywood has to follow suit. Create more films for all minorities, not just black people. We need more LGBT stories, more Asian stories, more Middle Eastern stories, more Native American stories, and more biracial/multiracial stories. We need stories of all types, including those I might have missed mentioned here.

Rampling asked why there need to be labels; little does she know that it’s the society she participates in that created those labels. If we had more stories of all types, and if those stories were valued on the same level playing field, then the negative, segregationist thinking that comes with these labels, would go away and the labels would just be mere descriptors, not assessments of a person’s entire being.

 

#OscarsSoWhite: More Discussion, New Open Letters Published

TONS of Oscar news, I tell ya! Tons of it! The battle for diversity in the Oscar nominations has gotten bigger than anyone thought it would get (including me, which might surprise you—I vacillate between cynicism and optimism) . Here’s what’s been happening so far.

Will Smith will not attend the Oscars after all. You can read more about his comments at Entertainment Weekly, but just know that during his Good Morning America exclusive he said these points: 1) he didn’t know about his wife’s plan to release a video, 2) he feels his wife would have made a video whether or not he was nominated (despite his concession that perhaps the lack of a Concussion nomination was the catalyst for Pinkett Smith’s feelings), and 3) this issue is about more than him and Concussion; it’s about the whole industry.

Mark Ruffalo heavily weighed not going to the Oscars over the course of Thursday. First, he said to BBC News that he was considering joining the boycott, saying, “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, the good people who don’t act are much worse than the people, the wrongdoers that are purposely not acting and don’t know the right way.” Later on Twitter, Ruffalo gave his final decision and his reasoning:

50 Cent and Tyrese Gibson want Chris Rock to boycott the Oscars, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. But personally, I want Chris Rock to host and slay the game. Embarrassing the Academy on live television is the type of righteous pettiness I can get behind.

• Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, and Quincy Jones are among other actors who are calling for more diversity in the Oscar voting pool. Davis, who was nominated for her role in The Help (a role indicative of the kind of roles the Oscars nominate for black people), said that the Oscar issue is indicative of a much larger societal problem. To quote The Hollywood Reporter:

“It’s not the Oscars. The Oscars are a symptom of a much greater issue and that’s the issue of the Hollywood movie-making system. How many more movies are being made that have this in it,” she asks as she points to the color of her skin. “More films need to be made wher we can shine. That’s the bottom line. The opportunity does not match the talent. There needs to be more opportunity, that’s just it. And you have to invest in it.”

Nyong’o, who won for her role in 12 Years a Slave (a slave role, another type the Oscars love for black people), posted this on Instagram:

Jones, who is the first black person to be added to the Academy board of governors, said to the National Association of Television Program Executives conference Wednesday that said he intends to address the diversity issue with the AMPAS board next week. “I’m going to ask the board to let me speak for five minutes on this lack of diversity. We’ve got to find a solution. It’s been going on for too long,” he said, according to Variety.

Brie Larson threw her support behind #OscarsSoWhite with this Instagram post:

Reese Witherspoon also called for more attention to the nominations outrage, writing on Facebook (and lauding TIME Magazine):

I really appreciated this article in TIME on the lack of racial and gender diversity in this year’s Oscar…

Posted by Reese Witherspoon on Thursday, January 21, 2016

• Other actors are furthering the diversity discussion by talking more about the industry at large. Idris Elba recently spoke to British Parliament about the lack of roles for black British actors, saying “Talent is there, opportunity isn’t, [a]nd talent can’t reach opportunity”(you can read the transcript here). On Twitter, Elba called the speech “the mot important speech I ever made.”

Nate Parker, who is playing slave rebel leader Nat Turner in the upcoming film Birth of a Nation (a film he wrote, produced and directed), said that too many of the roles for black men lack “integrity.” “As a black man, you leave auditions not hoping you get the job but wondering how you explain it to your family if you do,” he said to The Hollywood Reporter. “Historically, and this is truly my feeling, generally speaking we as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings, or being in the center [of] our own narrative driving it forward.”

Dustin Hoffman told BBC News (as reported by The Hollywood Reporter) that that lack of inclusion with Oscar noms is indicative of America’s racist history, calling it “subliminal racism.”

“In our country, there’s a subliminal racism, and it’s been there…the end of the Civil War didn’t change that,” he said on the red carpet of the National TV Awards. “It’s only been 200 years, this is just an example of it.” He also said, “Other than black entertaiiners being nominated, there’s a bigger problem with young black individuals being killed on our streets by police. That’s a bigger problem.”

• The Los Angeles Times has also addressed that it’s not just black people denigrated by the lack of Oscar nominations and the industry; the Times‘ Susan King points out that it’s been 54 years since a Latina won an Oscar, and an Asian actress hasn’t won in 58 years. Ben Johnson, of Cherokee and Irish descent won an Oscar in 1971, and no other indigenous person  who was nominated for an Oscar has won since.

• Some of the Oscar voters themselves have come out to The Hollywood Reporter on the defensive, with some saying that they feel it’s unfair to imply that they are racist (even though no one applied the word “racist” and the consensus doesn’t account for a more nuanced reading of the outrage fans and other Oscar voters have). Others have also said that the battle should be with the industry, not with them.

• Despite what some of the offended Oscar voters are saying, many of the current and former Academy brass are working on getting their members in check. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson had an op-ed published in The Hollywood Reporter, stating that this moment in time is an “inflection point.” To quote a piece:

“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 indstury has been building up over a very log time, starting with white men running the studios who hire other people who look like them. It 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.”

The former Academy president, Hawk Koch, wrote in a passionate open letter to the Hollywood industry (published in The Hollywood Reporter) that a boycott won’t solve anything, but changing the industry will. Quoting the letter:

“…[C]learly our industry needs to do more to find and develop talent in all the crafts. We must work with the Unions and the Guilds as well as schools across the country to identify and cultivate the talent of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, LGBTs, the disabled an all under represented gropus. And then we have to allow them access to every single aspect of filmmaking.”

All of this and more will probably be discussed this Tuesday when AMPAS will meet for a routine meeting next Tuesday. One of the governors told Entertainment Weekly that “[i]t promises to be a long and adventuresome night.”

News about #OscarsSoWhite is still developing as we speak, so we’ll see what happens in the coming days.

#OscarsSoWhite: The Conversation Continues, More Actors Speak Out

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)

A photo posted by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

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.”

I want to congratulate all of the Academy Award nominees. These people are quite deserving of being recognized as the…

Posted by Will Packer on Friday, January 15, 2016

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:

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.

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.

Related articles:

Who’s Boycotting the Oscars So Far—And Who’s Just Mad (The Wrap)

Oscars 2016: David Oyelowo and Don Cheadle join diversity critics (BBC News)

Diversity in Hollywood: Here’s What Critics Are Saying About Round 2 of #OscarsSoWhite (NPR)

#OscarsSoWhite Dominates Oscar Nomination Talk

The Oscar nominations have been released, and the talk isn’t about who people want to win, but about why the list of nominees aren’t more diverse. This makes the second year that #OscarsSoWhite has dominated the social media and real world discussions about the highest honor in film, but this year is just one of many in which white stories and white actors and directors have been chosen over equally-as-talented minority actors and directors. Personally speaking, some of the domestic projects I’m rooting for are SpotlightSanjay’s Super Team, What Happened, Miss Simone?, CarolThe Danish Girl, and The Revenant, since they are the only stories featuring diversity of any sort and/or tell stories that need more in-depth coverage. (By the term “domestic,” I’m not including foreign films.)

The big question lots of people are having is why the nominations are still just as homogeneous in the acting categories as they were last year? At the very least, Alejandro González Iñárritu was nominated for Best Director. Some people are probably feeling like no one is listening to their cries for more diversity in films, especially since 2015 itself wasn’t that diverse of a film year to begin with; the biggest films featuring racial diversity were indie films, like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl and Dope, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominated the end of 2015 so hard, to the point that it seemed like 2015 was more diverse than it actually was. Also, films like Carol, Tangerine, and The Danish Girl were about the only films of the year featuring LGBT stories. Yet, Tangerine, which featured transgender characters of color, was overlooked for Carol and The Danish Girl, which feature white lesbian or transgender characters.

The answer about the nominations issue comes in the form of time. There simply hasn’t been enough time for the changes the current Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, have implemented to really be effective. The Hollywood Reporter called the Academy’s recruitment of more members from diverse backgrounds as “Phase one,” stating that “phase two” needs to be in effect, if it’s not already. “Now campaigners must ask: Do these freshman members change the nature of the game? The answer is yes, though the full effects of change won’t be felt for a few more years, as even more new members replace the old,” wrote Stephen Galloway for the site. “…Some insiders argue that the apparent diversity isn’t as widespread as it seems, and that the bulk of new members are entrenched in the Hollywood establishment. They’re right—this is still a relatively small contingent. Diversity is starting to happen, but it’s slow and its effects may not be felt fully for several years to come, or until the industry itself is more diverse.”

CHRIS ROCK

The old guard in the Academy could be considered part of the problem; the nominations list includes nominations for the screenwriting team of Straight Outta Compton, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus; however, the screenwriting team is white, while the rest of the Straight Outta Compton crew, including director F. Gary Gray, weren’t nominated for the same movie. In case you haven’t guessed, F. Gary Gray is black, as are the actors in the film. Also, the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation wasn’t nominated at all, despite the star talent of Idris Elba, young actor Abraham Attah, and the direction of Cary Fukunaga. Ditto for Concussion, starring Will Smith, whose role in the film is tailor-made for Oscar nominations. Ditto again for Creed, which starred Micahel B. Jordan and was directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, but only Sylvester Stallone was nominated for an award.

The other part of the problem is, of course, that it’s an industry-wide problem. Tambay A. Obenson wrote for Shadow and Act that people’s anger shouldn’t be with the Academy at all. “I continue to argue that our ire should not be with the Academy, but instead with the studio heads and financiers who decide what films are made. Until the playing field is leveled, this disparity between the volume, variety and quality of films made by/about white people and those made by/about people of color, will extend its run, uninterrupted.” One way he illustrated his point earlier in the article is when he discussed the Straight Outta Compton snub and wondering if Gray, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Will Packer, producers of the film, had any say over who would get to write the film.

Want to read more about diversity in film and television? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!

However, one observation is the Academy’s old guard and the perpetrators of industry-wide problems are hand-in-hand, since quite a few of the perpetrators are a part of the Academy. Right now, the Academy—and the Hollywood industry itself–are in a vicious circle, feeding each other BS while the the public demands something new. However, there’s something to be said when the Academy president herself is speaking out against the nominations. “Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness [of the films nominated],” Isaacs told Yahoo’s Pete Hammond. “This has been a great year in film, it really has across the board. You are never going to know what is going to appear on the sheet of paper until you see it.” When discussing the problems with a lack of diverse nominations, Isaacs said, “We have got to speed it up,” saying that the Academy’s efforts to recruit and focus on diverse films is happening at too slow a pace.

The changes are happening, but at a glacial pace. But as Obenson wrote, it would behoove us to support indie films that do showcase diversity as well studios and companies focusing primarily on diverse filmmaking like Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY and Charles D. King’s MACRO Ventures, both of which put out statements today:

Here’s what I had to say about the Oscar nominations on Twitter:

The irony of all of this is that Chris Rock is going to host the Oscars this year. I wonder what his jokes will be like.

What did you think about the nominations? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Exclusive interview: Five takeaways from my conversation with Kenny Leu

Kenny Leu is an actor you’ve probably seen before in your favorite shows and films, like NCIS, The Player, and Independence Day: Resurgence. He’ll make his biggest mark yet as Sgt. Eddie Chen in the upcoming National Geographic miniseries The Long Road Home, based on ABC News’ chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz’s book about the true story of American forces who are ambushed in Sadr City, an Iraqi neighborhood. But before that, you can get to know him better as the star and an executive producer of the new webseries, Munkey in the City, which follows a young man who is trying to find fame–and himself–in the big city.

In my hour-long conversation with Leu, I got to better understand Leu’s commitment to increasing Asian American visibility in the media, his thoughtfulness on nuanced topics such as colorism, his willingness to learn from others’ cultural and racial experiences, and what he learned on the set of The Long Road Home. Here are five takeaways from our conversation.

•On landing the part of Munkey:

“I’ve been in LA now for almost four years. Before I moved out to LA to pursue acting full time, I was pursuing acting part-time in the San Francisco Bay area. I forget how I got this audition notice,but I was told about  this project…went into audition for it, and ended up getting the part. We started to collaborate after I read the script and…it just reads as a very genuine story.

Our version of the series came out all right; there were a lot of things I felt I could have done better; I was still growing a lot as an actor and he was still growing a lot as a filmmaker. We shot our first draft of it in the San Francisco Bay before I moved down. I had already moved down to LA for a year before I saw his latest draft…By that time, I had taken really great classes, I had really learned a lot. I was like, “Michael, if I get another chance, I want to redo it.” He was like, ‘Dude, let’s do it then!’”

•On Munkey’s importance:

“One of the biggest things that drew me to this project is that I relate a lot to Munkey. He’s an aspiring writer, he moved to the city to become someone. He’s still figuring out who he is and what he wants in life. I feel that’s a very universal theme for a lot of people. What kind of struck me most about this project is that it’s a character who’s Asian American yet has these universal themes. He’s very human—he’s not perfect, he’s not a bad person, he’s just a guy who’s trying to get by. There’s a lack of stories in mainstream media where you have an Asian guy who’s just trying to live. That was the first thing that really drew me to this project; he just felt like this very real person and he just happened to be Asian American.

I relate very much personally to this to because I feel this is something very unique to Asian Americans. I feel like Asian Americans in general don’t ask ourselves what we want until later in life than most other cultures. At least, that’s me personally and a bunch of my friends who went through the school system, were very successful students, and before we woke up to what we wanted in life, we kind of already had this career going for us.

Kenny Leu as Munkey. (Screencap)

Before I was an actor I got a degree in mechanical engineering from Berkeley, and I was working…before I realized acting was something that fulfilled me more deeply than engineering will. It was a matter of taking everything that I’d had, everything I’d worked hard for—terrific salary, great job, terrific opportunities, potentially a family, your parents’ smiling faces, knowing they’ll have grandkids soon, health insurance—it’s all in my hands. I remember the moment I took all of it and threw it away. That’s something I think a lot of Asian American families, especially the ones who immigrated in the ’80s, really had to go through, that there is a choice between what everyone tells you is happiness and what you really want for yourself.

I think Munkey is reflective of that. I’d like to imagine Munkey had a career before he became a writer and that’s why he’s so lost,[thinking] ‘Am I stupid for doing this? Why do I want to become a writer? I’m not making any money from this, my roommate’s hooked on coke, I’m living such a shitty existence and some instinct tells me this is the only path forward.’”

•On Asian representation in Hollywood:

“I think things are definitely changing. Me being a part of the industry down here, I know for a fact that executives are trying. I think their efforts are still pretty clumsy and they’re still just holding onto some old beliefs that just aren’t true anymore. For instance, they still don’t believe an Asian American man can be the lead of a movie. …It’s very discouraging to see that that’s still a belief, because it’s still very much reflected in how people see each other here, I believe. My take on it is that I’m very optimistic, but cautiously [so]. I think there could still be more changes.

I think this is the first time ever where Asian American voices are united and persistent on something…It’s very hard to unify our voices because we come from such different backgrounds. But this is the first time I feel like we’ve worked in unison on something, and it’s made an impact, especially on Twitter, #OscarsSoWhite, [etc]. I’m very excited this is happening.

My hope is that we get an Asian American movie star whose name transcends his ethnicity. I feel like if you’re African American, you’ve got Denzel Washington and Will Smith, who I believe are such stars that their ethnicities aren’t as important as their names. I feel like we as Asian Americans don’t have that. That’s the crux of how I feel like a lot of Asian Americans get treated out here. It’s very easy to feel like you’re invisible, to feel like you don’t matter. Personally, I’ve received this a lot—a person treats me based on my race rather than on who I am. We’re fighting for the constant visibility that I think is specific, but not unique to, growing up Asian American in the United States. It’s not the overt hostility that African Americans face; it’s the complete opposite. It’s complete apathy.”

•On colorism in Hollywood, as seen in Crazy Rich Asians

“On the one hand, I think this Crazy Rich Asians is terrific. I hope this is going to be our generation’s Joy Luck Club and people will see that it’s interesting to watch Asian Americans on the big screen…and people will become more confident in investing in films like that in the future. Me personally, I  tried reading the book, and I read a lot, but for some reason I just couldn’t finish this one. There was nothing interesting about it to me; a lot of it was just talking about clothes and a culture I couldn’t relate to at all. Maybe I was expecting it to be more of an Asian-American story…it’s not; it’s very specifically Asian, and it’s also very specifically the ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra-rich Asian. That’s very hard to relate to. I think going back to the crux of what Asian-Americans need to tackle in order to become accepted in the mainstream is this idea that we’re human too and we deal with universal issues like what Munkey’s going through and not like kung fu movies and math problems.

On top of that, something that bummed me out was when they cast Henry Golding in the lead. The reason why is because…something that I’ve noticed a lot is that our faces are kind of getting erased. Almost all of the parts go to Eurasian people. It sucks because we’re being horribly misrepresented, like our features aren’t good enough to be on the big screen. ‘He looks too Asian to ever be all right. It’s just a very Eurocentric way of looking at what beauty means and what it means to be handsome and that kind of stuff…I’m very cautious of our faces getting erased for an ideal that I believe is not true.

I know that this is something that has stemmed back [with black America] for hundreds of years; I’m reading a Malcolm X book, his autobiography, and he talks about that even back in the 1930s. Being lighter-skinned was a thing that made you more accepted by white society. It’s very analogous to what all the other minorities will be going through [in Hollywood]; the whiter you look, the more accepted you are, but only on screen. It’s such a nuanced, yet perverse thing to have happen to us, which subconsciously tells all of us that if you’re ethnic, you’re less than, you’re beautiful, and you don’t deserve [someone relating to you].”

• On playing Lt. Eddie Chen in The Long Road Home

“Our whole platoon is incredibly diverse, reflective of true life. It’s just something you would never see Hollywood casting if it wasn’t based on a true story. Our lieutenant commander is Hispanic, and we’ve brought in a whole number of ethnicities. I’m the only Asian man in it, but you’ve never seen that in a military show. All kinds of people are being represented in this platoon[.]

The vets all came out to give us their blessing. This is the first week that I showed up, and the vets were already there, saying, “Thank you for telling our story, thank you for not making us heroes.” [The miniseries] is about these really awful, difficult decisions they had to make in order to live. It was such an incredible experience on that level.

Kenny Leu as Sgt. Eddie Chen in “The Long Road Home.” (National Geographic)

On my first day of shooting, I was really nervous because we were shooting this big scene, and there were 400 extras in the scene. We’re all soldiers saying goodbye to their families; obviously, it’s very emotional. I’m walking through my scene with the director, making sure I’m hitting all my marks and that I know where the cameras are. In the middle of all of that, there are all of these extras that come up to me. Imagine the most Texan guys you could think of—they had the long mustaches with sunglasses and the big boots and big belt buckles and big bellies—they surrounded me and came up to me, and I was wearing my uniform at the time and they were reading my [character’s] name and my insignia. There was like a moment of silence. I was like, “Oh f***, what’s going on?” They were like, “You’re Sgt. Chen…we served with Eddie 13 years ago.” He was like a big brother to them and he was the guy everyone looked up to. He was the most honest, genuine person they’d ever known. I’m standing there on this field suddenly realizing how meaningful this story is to all these people. I was like, “Oh my God.” …That was something that rattled me to my core. You realize how important it is to tell stories like this, where people are represented properly. It makes you realize what a responsibility storytelling is.”♦

Watch Munkey in the City on its website , Vimeo page and YouTube page, and follow the series on FacebookTwitter,and Instagram. The Long Road Home premieres on National Geographic November 7 at 9/8c. 

This article has been edited and condensed.

The Academy’s 2017 Class is a Much-Needed Step in the Right Direction

The Academy has taken a huge step forward with rectifying their “white old man” look by adding a new freshman class of 774 actors and directors, including Gal Gadot, Leslie Jones, Jordan Peele, Nazanin Boniadi, Grace Lee (whom I’ve interviewed before), Zoë Kravitz, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Betty White (why hadn’t she been added yet???), B.D. Wong, Donnie Yen, Leslie Jones, Riz Ahmed and Dwayne Johnson.

(For the full list of new members from all branches, visit Oscars.org.)

According to the Oscars’ stats, the new members hail from 57 countries and are 39 percent female, with seven of the branches inviting more women than men. Thirty percent of the new members are also people of color.

This is a vast improvement for the Academy, especially taking in where the organization was about a year and a half ago, with threatened boycotts and outrage over the lack of minority-led Oscar nominated films. Fans had utilized April Reign’s hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to voice their anger, and the Academy has taken meaningful steps to respond, first by adding more members from various backgrounds last year, and now this new batch of members this year.

Of course, even though these numbers are huge steps in the right direction, there are some gaps that need to be filled. Such as there aren’t many listed who are also disabled. I say “many” because there could be people with invisible disabilities, such as mental illness, that are listed. As of my review, I only see one actor with a physical disability, Warwick Davis. The focus for the Academy right now is purely on gender and race demographics, but it’d be great to see the organization focus on disability demographics as well, since it might spur the organization to recognize films that feature actual disabled actors.

Also, there aren’t any Native actors listed and there’s very little Latinx and LGBT representation as well. Bigger gains could be made on these fronts. But on the whole, this fleshed-out Academy voting board will benefit both the Academy itself and movie goers, despite the opinion of one Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter.

Usually, I refrain from jumping on fellow movie critics and analysts, since oftentimes, we are getting paid for our opinion, and an opinion is something that you can either agree with and support or disagree with and turn the other way. However, for Feinberg’s analysis about the new batch of voters, I have to make an exception for.

Feinberg’s initial point—that jamming the voting board with more actors might seem more like a vapid political move to avoid bad PR—is rather innocuous by itself. You can either take it or leave (and even as an innocuous point, I would leave it because of the positive impact any move, including ones that could be seen as vapid and political, could have on the poor state of representation in Hollywood today). But what gets more intolerable is how aggressive Feinberg becomes in discrediting the actors who got the invite.

I hate to single anyone out, but I don’t even think the people who I am going to reference would argue that they have had the sort of film career that already merits an invitation to the film Academy. Let’s start with this year’s invitees to the acting branch, whose names are the most familiar to the general public. Wanda Sykes? Zoe Kravitz? Terry Crews? Really? Some have made only one big-screen contribution of any note, such as Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot. And many are predominately known for their work on the small screen: The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed, Atlanta‘s Donald Glover, Underground‘s Aldis Hodge, Saturday Night Live‘s Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad, The Golden Girls‘ Betty White and Mr. Robot‘s B.D. Wong (I have similar reservations about several white male invitees, as well, such as Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm and ex-bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno.)

…None of this is intended to insult the talent and/or doubt the future potential of any of these individuals, but rather to examine and question what the Academy is trying to do here. I believe that the Academy’s intentions are admirable, but that its tactics are foolhardy. The bottom line is that the Academy cannot fix the industry’s diversity problems any more than a tail can wag a dog. This is not a problem that can be reverse-engineered.

Feinberg might write that he’s not trying to insult these newly-minted Academy members by rejecting their entire body of work as a reason to be invited into the Academy, but that’s exactly what he’s doing. First of all, he’s acting like none of the people he’s listed have ever been in movies–they all have film credits to their name along with television credits. I mean, how many Jurassic Park films does B.D. Wong have to be in to be recognized as an actor in a film franchise, not to mention the voice of Mulan’s (bisexual) partner, Shang? Before Mr. Robot, Rami Malek was a film actor, having been part of the Night at the Museum and Twilight franchises. Heck, he just finished a movie, Buster’s Mal Heart. Doesn’t Rogue One count as a good reason for Riz Ahmed to be a part of the Academy? Also, are you really going to go as far as s**t on someone as respected and beloved as Betty White?

The bottom line is you can’t be invited to the Academy unless you’ve been in the movies or work in the film industry in some way (along with some other qualifiers such as sponsorship, etc.). For Feinberg to say that because these actors in particular have made their mark in TV as well is needlessly splitting hairs. Secondly, why not add them to the Academy?? What’s the big deal? With as long as these folks have been in the game, and with as many hours as they’ve dedicated to their craft, they deserve to give their say on what they feel are the best films of the year. It’s not like they don’t know what makes a good story, and that’s all a film is–a story. It would seem the only problem is that the Academy has proven that they aren’t just inviting people for good PR; they’re inviting people to double down on the promise it made to its members and audiences alike–to create an organization that actually reflects the movie-going public.

Feinberg is poking a bear by singling out majority POC actors whilst adding parenthetically that he has some gripes with two white male members, as if that makes his poking okay (and tell me why Hamm and Ferrigno can’t sound off on films?). This is not the hill to die on, especially if your argument is created from something as baseless as “they’ve been on TV, therefore the films they’ve been in don’t count towards Academy membership.”

Feinberg does write in an earlier post about the new members that “there is a refreshing presence of other highly accomplished minorities throughout the list” and that many among the new members, particularly the new members of the directing branch, should have been invited long ago. However, he takes such a disturbing tone in his later analysis, with the excuse for it being the argument that adding more people of color to the Academy won’t stop racism from happening in Hollywood at large. But you can’t be both for and against more representation in Hollywood, unless you’re a champion at doublethink. Besides, arguing that the Academy can’t solve racism is like not seeing the forest for the trees.

The gag is that everyone knows the Academy can’t solve industry racism by itself. The Academy, and its viewpoints up until the past year or so, is a product of a society that is still grappling with the realities of race, the sexual spectrum, mental illness, and how to deal with all of it in a respectful manner. There’s a lot more that has to happen inside of Hollywood to truly change the industry culture, sure. There’s also a lot that has to happen outside of Hollywood before it begins to trickle into Hollywood en masse. Like the Academy, Hollywood’s ills are only a product of America’s ills.

But that’s not to say the trickle isn’t already happening. We’ve seen more filmmakers bolstered by the many avenues now available to producing their visions, and we’ve seen more and more actors of color and marginalized communities speak out against terrible treatment in the industry. We’ve also seen the online community of movie fans—the audience members themselves—voice their frustration with the industry on social media, their message finding a place where it can be amplified and heard by The Powers That Be.

All of this led up to many watershed moments of representation in the past year, but none that inhabit the whole purpose of expanding the Academy more than Moonlight, an indie film showcasing a story about black gay men, winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Only two years ago, a film like that wouldn’t have made it to the nomination rounds. But, because of an Academy that had more minority members, Moonlight got the organization’s attention and became the Best Picture Winner, beating out a movie that couldn’t be more Status Quo if it tried, La La Land.

Also, the fact that more people from underrepresented communities will now have a chance to give other creators from underrepresented communities Oscar nods, it’ll give those creators the same clout and marketability their white counterparts have been enjoying for years. It’ll also give films featuring minority casts the same monetary and critical opportunities white films have never been without. In short, it’ll open up more possibilities in Hollywood for directors and actors, which will lead to more films being made, more awards given, and so on and so forth. The expansion of the Academy has the potential to have a snowball effect in Hollywood, and it can only be for the positive.

So, I, as a fellow entertainment analyst and critic myself, can’t abide the rhetoric that moves like these don’t change anything. It’s like telling the members of SNCC back in the ‘60s that their sit-ins at lunch counters wouldn’t amount to anything. Since we can now take for granted the concept of sitting at a booth in a restaurant, it would seem their sit-ins did make a world of difference. You can’t throw out progress just because it is slow and not immediately all-encompassing. That’s ridiculous.

I suggest for readers to take a look at Flavorwire’s article “THR Doesn’t Think All Those Women and POC ‘Merit’ Academy Inclusion'” by Jason Bailey, since he goes more in on Feinberg’s hitpiece-as-analysis way more than I did. But what Bailey writes at the end is particularly important:

It’s one thing for Academy members, terrified of their own obsolescence, to voice these thoughts in private (and, as writer Charles Bramesco notes, in the Reporter‘s loathsome annual tradition of ‘Anonymous Oscar ballots’). But it’s reprehensible for an industry publication like THR to hand Feinberg the bandwidth to mouthpiece it for them, with all the conviction of a country-club president who assures us that it means nothing that their membership is all-white. It’s just how things are done around here.

To end this on a positive note, I’m excited that so many actors, many of whom should have been a part of the Academy in the first place, have now been added to this illustrious roster. I’m sure they’ll serve the organization well, and I can’t wait to see what films they nominate for 2018.