Actor David Oyelowo has become the latest black celebrity to condemn the Academy Awards after no performers of color were nominated in the four acting categories for the second year in a row.
The British actor spoke candidly about his frustration during remarks Monday at the King Legacy Awards, where he was honoring Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the current academy president and the first African-American to hold the position. “The Academy has a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved,” Oyelowo said. “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 added.
Oyelowo’s remarks were particularly pointed considering the fact that he was snubbed in the Oscars’ best actor category for his acclaimed performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the voting rights period drama “Selma” last year. In the aftermath of that year’s nominations, which inspired an #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, Oyelowo was one of several hundred new figures to join the academy in an effort to grow the diversity of the Oscar voting pool, an initiative spearheaded by Boone Isaacs. On Monday, Oyelowo said he and Boone Isaacs had met privately to discuss “what went wrong” that year. “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,” Oyelowo said.
For her part, Boone Issacs has said in the wake of this year’s nominations that “dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.”
“I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion,” Isaacs wrote in a statement posted on the academy’s official Twitter page. “This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes.” Last year, Boone Isaacs created a new initiative to promote diversity called A2020, which was tasking with taking “concrete measures” to continue broadening the demographic base of the academy.
“You, the people in this room, the true movers and shakers in our industry, you understand that when it comes to fair and equal representation in our industry, words are not enough. We also have a responsibility to take action, and we have a unique opportunity to do so now. Interest in the motion picture arts and sciences has never been as strong as it is today. The world is watching to see how we respond to this critical issue,” Isaacs said during the academy’s Governor’s Awards last November.
Still, despite Boone Isaac’s efforts, there is no question that the Oscars have taken a significant hit in public relations. Both director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith (whose husband Will Smith was seen as a potential nominee for his role in “Concussion”) have announced that they are boycotting the show. And documentary filmmaker Michael Moore has said he will also skip the awards in solidarity with them. “They are not looking for tokenism or symbolism – they want this thing fixed, and I believe they will accomplish that. This is not a PR move on the part of the Academy,” Moore told The Wrap on Monday. “But the idea that we could go two years in a row, where 40 actors could be nominated and none of them were black, is just crazy. So 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].”
Even the show’s host, comedian Chris Rock, has mocked the lack of minority representation, tweeting that the show’s racial make-up makes it the “White BET Awards.”
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles branch of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network has called on black viewers to participate in a nationwide “TV Tune Out” of the awards, which air on Feb. 28. According to The New York Times, ratings for the Oscars have taken a hit during years where minority actors are underrepresented. Nielsen ratings for last year’s ceremony represented a six-year low.
“Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher up you get the whiter it gets,” Sharpton, an MSNBC host, said in a recent statement. “This year’s Academy Awards will be yet another Rocky Mountain Oscars. Yet again, deserving black actors and directors were ignored by the academy — which reinforces the fact that there are few if any blacks with real power in Hollywood. Being left out of awards consideration is about more than just recognition for a job well done; winning an Oscar has long-lasting cultural and economic impacts.”
Oyelowo tapped into the economic issue in his off-the-cuff marks on Monday, too, pointing out the fact that the top two films at the box office – “Ride Along 2” and “The Force Awakens” feature black men in leading roles, before making a plea on behalf on Boone Issacs. “We need to pray for Cheryl, we need to support Cheryl, we need to love Cheryl. We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get negative. But we must make our voice heard,” he said.