Boycott Urged After Oscars Shut Out Minorities Again

Boycott Urged After Oscars Shut Out Minorities Again
Ted Soqui/L.A. Weekly

They did it again.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has managed to nominate an all-white acting class of 2015 for the most prestigious awards in Hollywood, next month's Oscars. The same thing happened last year.

The National Action Network's L.A. chapter is calling for a "TV Tune Out" boycott of the awards' television program Feb. 28.

"It's a tune-out of the Oscars," the network's Najee Ali told us. "Essentially, African-Americans and other minorities –  the awards don't include us. The only thing the academy will listen to is ad dollars. There will be a lack of viewers, advertisers and interest."

It's not like the academy's leadership hasn't tried to fix this. And it's not like there weren't people of color worthy of nomination.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs is African-American, and she's made it clear that diversifying the organization's voting ranks is a top priority. She started an initiative, A2020, to hire more people of color within the group, too. But she can't force thousands of otherwise anonymous voters to give more respect to minorities.

"She's done what she could," Ali said, "but we look at her as being a black face of a Hollywood culture steeped in racism and sexism."

Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, said Boone's options are limited, given the academy's entrenched, mostly lifetime membership.

"The academy reflects the industry," he said. "All sectors produce this problem."

This year's acting nominations passed over performances by black actors in Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and Straight Outta Compton (which had multiple black leads).  Performances by Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson and Will Smith also were shut out.

At the same time, Creed's white supporting actor, Sylvester Stallone, got a nod, and so did Compton's white co-writers.

"Once again, minorities have been excluded from the acting nominations and most of the other major categories," the Center for African American Studies at UCLA said in a statement.

To be fair, director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu's The Revenant saw 12 nominations. He's a Mexico City elite, however, who doesn't exactly represent Los Angeles' Latino population.

Hunt says fewer films produced in 2015 meant less work for minorities, helping to seal this year's acting nominations shutout. "As in every other economic sector in America, when opportunities dry up, the first people to feel the pain are women and minorities," he said.

Hollywood critics note that nearly half of the ticket buyers in the United States are nonwhite. And, as Hunt's work at UCLA's Bunche Center has pointed out in the past, on average, productions featuring a healthy mix of minorities outperform films with white casts. The latest example is the record-breaking Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which featured a black co-lead, John Boyega.

When will Hollywood change?

The Los Angeles Times famously reported a few years ago that the academy is 94 percent white, 77 percent male and fairly old, with a median age of 62. The city that surrounds this industry is nearly 75 percent minority, with one out of two us being Latino.

But membership can't just be uprooted. Change is slow.

"We need to attack this on multiple fronts," Hunt said. "We're at an impasse, where there are no incentives for bold action, so we get piecemeal gestures."

Organizers of the Oscars boycott say the academy will feel the need for more urgent evolution when viewers in a 38 percent minority America tune out next month.

"This will send the message that diversity in the film industry must be more than a hollow promise," boycott organizers said in a statement.


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