Almost a week since the Academy Award nominations for this year were announced, the #OscarsSoWhite backlash has continued, with some of Hollywood’s most prominent people of color calling out their own industry, and in one case even raising the specter of a boycott of the highly-rated telecast.
For the second year in a row, no men or women of color were nominated in the four major acting categories, despite the critical acclaim and box office success of several productions headlined by black stars and a public push for the academy to diversify itself, spearheaded by its African-American president Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
Since the nominations were announced, social media users and pop culture commentators have been raging and even Boone Isaacs has admitted she is “disappointed” by the results. Oscar host Chris Rock has weighed in, calling this year’s Oscars the “White BET Awards” on Twitter. “Straight Outta Compton” producers Will Packer and Ice Cube have criticized the awards for largely shutting out their hit NWA film. Meanwhile, “Blackish” stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross mocked the controversy while presenting at the Critic’s Choice Awards on Sunday, joking that “only half” of the mixed race Ellis Ross would be welcome at the Academy Awards.
And actress Jada Pinkett Smith floated the concept of black actors and actresses making a statement by not appearing on the show in any capacity. ”At the Oscars … people of color are always welcomed to give out awards … even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments,” she tweeted this weekend. “Should people of color refrain from participating all together?” Her husband, Will Smith, was one of the black actors that some film-goers and critics believed was snubbed by the Academy Awards for his acclaimed performance in the NFL brain injury drama “Concussion.”
In an emotional Facebook video published Monday – titled “We must stand in our power!” – she expanded on her earlier tweets. “I can’t help but ask the question, is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence that we have amassed? That we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere. I asked the question, have we now come to a new time and place where we recognize that we can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgement, or respect of any group? That maybe it’s time that we recognize that if we loved, and acknowledge, and respect ourselves in a way that we are asking others to do that that is the place of true power.”
“The academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose, to invite whomever they choose,” she added. “And now I think it’s our responsibility now to make the change.” She went on to call for a pooling of resources within the black community to make “programs for ourselves” and to bring an end to “begging for acknowledgement” because it “diminishes” dignity. Pinkett Smith concluded by saying she won’t be attending or watching the Oscars.
Although her views may be rhetorical, they could create a groundswell, and protests at the Academy Awards over the issue or race and recognition are not unprecedented. Exactly 20 years ago, Rev. Jesse Jackson led a high profile protest of the Oscars. That year, just one of the 166 total nominees was a person of color.
“Behind the glamour and glitz, behind the fantasy of inclusion and opportunity so carefully nurtured by the film industry, there is the reality that there is only one African-American nominee this year and zero Latino, Asian Pacific, or Native Americans. What does this fact say about the marginal role people of color play in films?” he wrote in an open letter to the academy.
Packer echoed a similar sentiment in an impassioned Facebook post published on Friday: “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. It’s unfair to the performers of color who sacrificed so much, laid it all on the line AND DELIVERED with their projects this year.”
Meanwhile, one-time Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle has joked on Twitter that he will likely be “parking cars on G level” during the ceremony.
On a more serious note, MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton may be providing real teeth to the notion of a boycott. “Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher up you get the whiter it gets,” Sharpton 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.”
The Los Angeles branch of his National Action Network is calling for a nationwide “TV Tune Out” of the Oscars, which air Feb. 28, because “there’s only one thing that Hollywood understands and that’s dollars and ratings.”
“The lack of African Americans and women excluded from the major categories of Oscar nominees is appalling. Cheryl Boone Isaacs the African-American president of the academy is nothing but a pawn and the black face of Hollywood’s system and culture that is racist, sexist and lacks true diversity. Its important we boycott this year’s Oscars and tune it out,” added National Action Network LA political director Najee Ali in a statement last Thursday. And director Spike Lee, who received an honorary Oscar for his life’s work earlier last year, has already said he will not attend the awards this year out of solidarity with the snubbed.
“We cannot support it,” Lee wrote Monday on Instagram. “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!!”
Last year’s ceremony, which also took place under the shadow of #OscarsSoWhite criticism and was subjected to a small protest, saw its Nielsen ratings plummet to a six-year low, and research has shown that often fewer black viewers tune in when they are underrepresented among the nominees. The producers of the Academy Awards should be concerned if an alienated audience of minorities may lead to further erosion.