Amid calls for a boycott of the Academy Awards over its all-white acting nominees and Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith both announcing they would sit out this year’s ceremony, the academy’s president said it was time for major changes - and soon. Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a statement promising more diversity, and quickly, after both Lee and Pinkett spoke out on Monday.
In a lengthy Instagram post, Lee said he “cannot support” the “lily white” Oscars. Noting that he was writing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lee - who in November was given an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards - said he was fed up: “Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all,” he wrote. “We can’t act?!”
#OscarsSoWhite... Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It 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!! It's No Coincidence I'm Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday. Dr. King Said "There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It's Right". For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. 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. This Is What's Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With "The Green Light" Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, "I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS". People, The Truth Is We Ain't In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont'd)
In a video message on Facebook, Pinkett Smith also said she wouldn’t attend or watch the Oscars in February. Pinkett Smith, whose husband Will Smith wasn’t nominated for his performance in the NFL head trauma drama Concussion, said it was time for people of colour to disregard the Academy Awards.
Read: 2016’s Oscar nominations
“Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power,” she said. “And we are a dignified people and we are powerful.”
She added: “Let’s let the academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do us differently.” The video had amassed 4.5 million views by mid-Monday afternoon.
Last year’s all-white acting nominees also drew calls for a boycott, though not from such prominent individuals as Lee and Pinkett Smith. Whether it had any impact or not, the audience for the broadcast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, was down 16% from the year prior, a six-year low.
Isaacs has made a point of presenting a more inclusive show this year. The Feb. 28 broadcast will be hosted by Chris Rock and produced by Django Unchained producer Reginald Hudlin and David Hill. On Saturday, Rock, unveiling a new promotion for the broadcast, called the ceremony “The White BET Awards.”
The academy didn’t respond to messages left Monday.
When Oscar nominations were announced Thursday, Isaacs acknowledged she was “disappointed” that all 20 acting nominees were again white and promised to “continue the conversation” on diversity. Isaacs has worked to diversify membership for the academy, which a 2012 study by the Los Angeles Times found is overwhelming white and male.
But on Monday, Isaacs was more explicit and promised an examination of the academy and a more intense drive to diversify. “This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes,” she said in a statement released Monday night. “The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.”
Many awards handicappers expected nominations for Idris Elba of Beasts of No Nation and Benicio Del Toro for Sicario. The NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton also failed to earn a best picture nomination, despite some predictions it would. Ryan Coogler’s acclaimed Rocky sequel Creed scored only a nomination for Sylvester Stallone. (Lee’s own movie, the Chicago gang violence hip-hop musical Chi-Raq - celebrated by some and scorned by others - also went unnoticed.)
The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, created last year, was quickly resurrected online following the nominations. Rev. Al Sharpton - who last year met with former Sony head Amy Pascal following leaked emails that some viewed as racist - on Friday lambasted the academy.
“Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher up you get the whiter it gets and this year’s Academy Awards will be yet another Rocky Mountain Oscar,” said Sharpton.
In his post, Lee made it clear the Academy Awards is only part of the problem in an industry with deep-rooted diversity issues. In his Governors Awards speech, Lee said “It’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than be the head of a studio.”
“The Academy Awards is not where the ‘real’ battle is,” wrote Lee on Tuesday. “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. This is what’s important. The gate keepers. Those with ‘the green light’ vote.”