The momentum around a proposed boycott of the upcoming Academy Awards, due to its second straight year of all-white acting nominees, has now started to permeate corridors of power outside of the Hollywood establishment.
Democratic Rep. Danny Davis of Illinois has decided to endorse the call made by actress Jada Pinkett Smith and others to demonstrate opposition to the Oscars’ lack of diversity by not watching the program. Although he told MSNBC Friday that, in terms of his priorities, the Academy Awards would rank “way down near the bottom,” he believes that “African-Americans who spend their time, energy and effort looking at different aspects of life, while trying to promote a level of equality and what would be called equal opportunity and equal justice … then I support their positions, and I support their doing it.”
Although Davis admits he doesn’t follow film industry intrigue “intently,” he believes the #OscarsSoWhite controversy struck a chord because there are genuine concerns about whether the criteria with which black performers are being evaluated is the same. “Are you evaluating WIll Smith the way you’re evaluating everyone else?” he asked rhetorically. “Those who advocating [for a boycott], I think that is the basis of their advocacy.”
However, British actress Charlotte Rampling, who is nominated for best actress for her role in the drama “45 Years,” argued that the boycott idea is “racist to whites,” during an appearance on a French radio program, according The Guardian. “One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list,” the 69-year-old, who is also a member of the academy, reportedly said.
Rep. Davis told MSNBC Friday that Rampling’s comments were ill-informed. “If one really knows the history of this country and the history of the world, it would be hard to arrive at that conclusion,” he said, pointing out that while some African-Americans may hold racist views they are not in a position to oppress other groups, and certainly not members of the academy.
“It just raises the issue of the lack of equality and the level of sensitivity that sometimes needs to be displayed in order to say when we do get to this point where we display the idea that all men are created equal. And we haven’t got there yet,” Davis said. “Hopefully we’re on our way and will get there.”
Still, don’t expect to see Davis at any Oscar picket lines anytime soon. The 74-year-old Democrat said Friday, “If I march it’s going to be down Michigan Avenue promoting the concept of Black Lives Matter. It’s not going to be over who got an award.”
Meanwhile, directors Spike Lee and Michael Moore have also said they support calls for a boycott, and there has been an increasingly loud chorus of people calling on Oscars host Chris Rock to bow out, too. In a recent interview, Will Smith, who was widely viewed as one of the black performers who was snubbed this year, said he supports his wife’s calls for a boycott, and argued that the effort was not about him so much as where the entertainment industry is going.
“The nominations reflect the Academy. The Academy reflects the industry, reflects Hollywood. And the industry reflects America. It reflects a series of challenges that we are having in our country at the moment. There is a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony. That’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind,” he told Robin Roberts in a “Good Morning America” interview on Thursday.
In the wake of the backlash, the academy has taken dramatic action to right their supposed wrongs next year. On Friday, they established a 10-year term limit for academy membership (it’s currently for a lifetime) and that membership can be renewed only if that member has been active within the film industry within the decade. Membership can only reach lifetime status if they have three 10-year tenures or have won an Oscar themselves.
Additionally, the academy has appointed new board of governors to oversee the recruitment of more women and minorities to double their presence within the Oscar voter ranks by 2020.
“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in a statement on Friday. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”
The changes will go affect after this Oscar season comes to a close.
Actress Rashida Jones is already nudging the academy to pay attention to the upcoming slate of films coming out in 2016, many of which appear to boast strong work from minority performers. “Don’t worry, @TheAcademy. Looks like you might have plenty of chances not to blow it next year,” she tweeted Thursday, along with a link to a slideshow of awards bait performances by actors of color debuting at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.