If you were kicking around the Internet last week (hi!) you likely would’ve crossed paths with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Why? Because, like last year, zero out of the 20 nominated actors were actors of colour. (And that’s to start — because, as Spike Lee has said, “let’s not get into the other branches.”)
Which is why Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith have spoken out against the Awards, with Smith going so far as to boycott.
“How is it possible for the second consecutive year that all 20 contenders under the actor category are white?” Lee asked. “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. People, the truth is we ain’t in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lily white.”
Yep. And last night, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a statement via Twitter about diversity in the Academy, saying she was “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.”
“The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership,” she continued. “In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in 2016 and beyond.”
“In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation,” she continued. “We recognize the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.”
On top of this, Jada Pinkett Smith has spoken out to remind the Academy and everybody else who’s paying attention that the choice to boycott is about artists being overlooked (since Academy presidents Reginald Hudlin and Boone Isaacs are black).
“At the Oscars, people of colour are always welcomed to give out awards, even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments,” she posted on Twitter. “Should people of colour refrain from participating all together?”
She then went on to post a video to Facebook and made the powerful point: “Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power.”
Which is 100 percent true. Ultimately, the Academy — and also the entertainment industry in general, let’s be real — is failing people of colour. And that’s because the Academy is stocked with white people who clearly don’t understand the power and importance of inclusion. By building a literal ivory tower, the Academy are insulating themselves and creating an echo chamber in which they can and will only celebrate the faces they recognize. (So, white faces.) And the longer it continues, the deeper it goes, and the harder it will be to change.
So the time is now for those changes to be made. Never before has the Academy issued a statement condemning its own formula, so we can only hope that with Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ statement, we’ll see the evolution she promises. It’s also up to us not to bury our heads in the sand because it’s an easy thing to do. Regardless of whether or not we’re artists or we belong to the Academy (I have no idea who’s reading this — Leo, are you?), it takes a lot of voices to instigate change. Which means there’s an onus on us to demand change and to follow the Academy up on its word by asking questions and relaying and following up on statements and information both by the Academy itself and most importantly, the people the Academy’s been systematically ignoring.
It’s time for change.