Since the revival of the #oscarssowhite hashtag on social media this year, the waters surrounding this conversation have become even more murky. Actors and celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, and others have announced their intention to boycott the award show. Will Packer, producer of Ride Along 2 announced his disapproval of the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations in a Facebook post on his official account. He pointed out the fact that the #1 spot at the box office is occupied by Ride Along 2, a movie which has black lead actors, a black producer and a black director. Yet the movie is rated only two stars. In this comment, Packer seems to be suggesting that there is a bias among film critics and the Academy in how they evaluate “Black movies.” Packer wrote:
To my Academy colleagues, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. Period. The reason the rest of the world looks at us like we have no clue is because in 2016 it’s a complete embarrassment to say that the heights of cinematic achievement have only been reached by white people. I repeat—it’s embarrassing.
David Oyelowo has also joined the ranks of Black actors speaking up against the lack of diversity at the Oscars. Oyelowo was snubbed by the Academy just last year for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in DuVernay’s Selma despite Selma being nominated for Best Picture. DuVernay (a black director) was also snubbed as director for the film. At an evening gala in L.A., the actor expressed his disappointment in the Academy’s nomination choices and stated that “this institution (the Academy)… doesn’t reflect me.” Oyelowo made this speech in the presence of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who was attending the gala as the guest of honor.
The pressure on Black actors and filmmakers to speak on the topic of diversity in Hollywood has been mounting, and some have different opinions on the matter altogether. Whoopi Goldberg critiqued the boycott because it “doesn’t work”. Instead, she proposed that Black actors work year round to create more roles for themselves which can then be nominated. Actress Janet Hubert, Will Smith’s costar on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, has also spoken out against the Oscars boycott. She criticized Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith for being “pretenders.” In an interview with the L.A. Times, she said, “The Oscars were never designed for us.” Another person apparently against the call for diversity is Stacey Dash, who is known for her role in Clueless. Dash has made misguided and harsh claims stating that the diversity issue in Hollywood has arisen because the Black community has segregated itself by establishing awards that primarily celebrate Black talent.
Instead of statements of support or disapproval, many entertainers have used humor in clever ways to address the issue. Idris Elba made a humorous quip about the Oscars diversity controversy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to diverse TV,” he boldly declared on stage. Chris Rock also made his first public comment on the controversy with the release of the teaser trailer for the Oscars. He captioned the video, “The #Oscars. The White BET Awards.” While these jokes are funny, they lack commitment to the cause. Perhaps Chris Rock will expand on his comment/joke on stage as he hosts.
Perhaps unwelcome, the opinions of White actors have also joined the conversation. Helen Mirren argued that there isn’t a diversity problem in the Academy. According to her, the actors who were nominated were white because “it just so happened it went that way.” Michael Caine, a previous Oscar winner, added that, “You can’t vote for an actor because he’s black.” Charlotte Rampling, nominated for her leading role in 45 Years, has gone on record to say that the boycott is “racist against whites.” However, she has since issued a non-apology saying that her comments were “misinterpreted.”
With many complex sides to this debate, it seems that even Black Hollywood doesn’t seem to agree on what actions should be taken to increase diversity in Hollywood. Let’s not forget that the issue of the lack of representation in Hollywood and mainstream media in general is not just a Black issue. Latinos, Asians and Indigenous actors have also been underrepresented over the years. While the focus right now is on Black Hollywood, other minorities face similar battles for representation and celebrities such as Gina Rodriguez of Jane the Virgin have been taking steps to showcase diverse talent. Rodriquez has begun #MovementMondays on her Instagram account where she showcases different Latino actors and actresses, such as Oscar Isaac and Rosa Salazar. The Academy has finally addressed these issues and recently announced plans to double its female and minority members by 2020, but is it too late?
The 88th Academy Awards will air on Sunday, February 28th on ABC at 7pm EST.