Academy Awards Boycott Boosted by Star Power

Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith

Hollywood is a white citadel surrounded by a 75-percent minority city.

We've been reporting on the film and TV industry's diversity problems for more than 10 years, and that's just scratching the surface.

Every year people are astonished by some signpost that highlights the industry's entrenched whiteness — the Academy Awards, UCLA's annual Hollywood Diversity Report — and every year not much is done about it.

This year could be different.

On Friday the National Action Network's L.A. chapter called for a "TV Tune Out" of the Academy Awards' Feb. 28 telecast after all major acting nominations for 2015 film performances went to white entrants. 

Well-regarded performances from Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson and Will Smith were snubbed, as were lead entries from the movies Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and Straight Outta Compton (which had multiple black leads). 

Over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend, director Spike Lee, who received an honorary Oscar at November's Governors Awards, and actor Jada Pinkett Smith, who watched as husband Will Smith was shut out of the game this year, said they'd boycott the ceremony.

"How is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the actor category are white," Lee asked on Instagram yesterday. "And let's not even get into the other branches. Forty white actors in two 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 [sic]."

Jada Pinkett Smith posted a video on her Facebook page to announce that she would not be attending the Academy Awards.

"We can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgement or respect of any group," she said. "Maybe it's time that we recognize that if we love, acknowledge and respect ourselves in the way we are asking others to do, then that is the place of true power."

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who's African-American, was enthroned in 2013 in part to get the academy up to speed on diversity. But she's dealing with a more than 90 percent white membership, which largely enjoys lifetime status.

The unexpectedly strong backlash to this year's minority shutout prompted a quick and emotional response from Isaacs last night. 

"I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion," she said in a statement. "This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. 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."

If we were her, we'd be scared that the likes of Chris Rock, who's hosting the Oscars, could pull out. So far, however, Rock is sticking with the program, using the situation as an opportunity for educational humor. On Twitter he called the Oscars "the white BET Awards."

Organizers of the TV Tune Out hope the movement continues to gain steam between now and the ceremony's Feb. 28 airdate.

"Essentially, African-Americans and other minorities — the awards don't include us," Najee Ali of the National Action Network told us last week. "The only thing the academy will listen to is ad dollars. There will be a lack of viewers, advertisers and interest."

We'll see. Or maybe we won't.


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