Every Wednesday, L.A. Weekly focuses on a woman making a difference in Hollywood. This week, we shine the spotlight on April Reign, creator of the powerful #OscarsSoWhite movement.
Three years ago, April Reign created #OscarsSoWhite on Twitter in response to the failure of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' annual awards show to celebrate African-Americans and people of color onscreen and behind the scenes, and to address the fact that black creatives and those from underrepresented communities have been massively overlooked throughout the industry’s history. Some progress has been made, as a result of diversity initiatives and the backlash from black celebrities and allies who have protested the awards show since 2016 in alliance with #OscarsSoWhite. As a result, more women and people of color were added to the Academy’s membership. At the 2017 Oscars, Moonlight won as Best Picture, beating out the more traditional La La Land, despite the confusion as Warren Beatty stumbled in his delivery of the biggest and final award of the night. This year, Jordan Peele became the first African-American to win an Oscar for Best Screenplay, for his hit Get Out. But much work remains to be done, and Reign plans to continue her efforts to make a major impact on representation in Hollywood.
On March 1, days before this year’s Oscars, Reign launched a digital network/database, Akuarel, encouraging inclusion in the industry, at a press event at Soul in Hollywood. Early partners include A&E Networks, CBS Diversity, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America. Akuarel is geared toward changing the course of Hollywood.
Reign, who lives in Washington, D.C., and works as the senior marketing director for Fractured Atlas, travels frequently to Los Angeles. Last week, she was a guest on the “Representation Matters” panel at the 3% movement’s L.A. MiniCon, on the same day that the Bill Cosby sexual assault verdict was announced. After the panel, L.A. Weekly spoke with Reign about #OscarsSoWhite, the Bill Cosby case, #MeToo, inclusion and representation and her extraordinary new digital database/network, Akuarel.
L.A. Weekly: What are your thoughts on the Bill Cosby sexual assault verdict, in light of #MeToo?
April Reign: First and foremost, I have to give praise to Tarana Burke, who created the #MeToo movement. To me, that was part of something that went into the deliberation room for the jurors. The conversations that the entire country has been having about sexual assault and sexual harassment and violence against women, I think that is at the forefront of people’s minds.
One wonders if Tarana Burke had not been so diligent for all of these years, what would have happened. We also know that it specifically was the deposition in which Ms. [Andrea] Constand told us what happened to her that made a significant difference this time. Still, why did it take over 60 women to come forward? Why did it take decades for this justice to happen? And what does it mean for women who are still living in the shadows as survivors who even now, people are still questioning their claims? This is why women and men still don’t come forward, because they fear that even after conviction they won’t be believed or that they will never get to the point where there is a conviction, and there won’t be any justice and resolution for them.
In these kinds of cases, how do you differentiate or separate the art from the artist?
Here we are and it’s unfortunate, because we have to have a difficult conversation about the difference between the art and the artist. I remember The Cosby Show and Fat Albert cartoon characters. He was a beloved icon, publicly, and yet behind the scenes he was preying on women. We need to stop putting our favorites on a pedestal. They all have issues. They are all human, and what we see on the screen is not necessarily what is going on when the cameras are turned off.
The #MeToo movement took off with Rose McGowan's allegations against Harvey Weinstein, yet statutes of limitations may restrict some victims' ability to receive justice. Will what happened to Bill Cosby happen to white moguls?
One would hope that all those who prey on women are brought to justice. But we have to recognize that there is a distinction: white privilege. I saw recently that Charlie Rose may have a show where he is bringing back other men who have been accused. How does he even get airtime? Who is it who’s giving him a platform despite the fact that he was dismissed for preying on women? I don’t know what the answer is but I know that we have to be equitable across the board, and issues of race and of wealth should not protect those who should be held accountable for the things that they’ve allegedly done.
The Cosby verdict represents a huge day in Hollywood, a huge day in the legal world, and for women and #MeToo. There also was a huge victory for the inclusion rider at the Oscars, when Frances McDormand gave a shout-out to the work of Dr. Stacy Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which launched a powerful and growing movement toward inclusion in Hollywood. What are you are fighting for most to achieve with #OscarsSoWhite now? Can you tell us about your new Akuarel network, which you launched on March 1 just before the Oscars this year?
The focus is and always has been on providing more opportunities in Hollywood for traditionally underrepresented communities. So I am currently fundraising to create Akuarel, a network of people behind and in front of the camera, behind and in front of the curtains onstage and journalists who can self-identify in all of the categories that are part of #OscarsSoWhite — race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age — that will also filter for experience and location. It’s a database that is free for creatives and that includes everybody, from key grips and best boys to A-list actors to journalists in front of the camera and those who do print media, so they can self-identify in all of their categories and put their best foot forward. So studios and networks and media outlets can find those people and provide the opportunities.
In January 2015, I created #OscarsSoWhite, a clarion call to increase diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. We have seen some progress, but there’s much more work to be done. I’ve talked about the problem for 3 years. It’s time for a solution. Meet Akuarel™?. pic.twitter.com/OJGnb08Owk— April (@ReignOfApril) March 1, 2018
So we’re talking about inclusion riders. Everybody is saying, "We want [to hire] more [diverse people] but we don’t know where to find them." Disney said that very famously last year. There are billions of Asian and Asian-American folks in the world, but "we can’t find one to play Aladdin and we can’t find one to play Jasmine."
My network will say, ‘Well, if you need to check off the boxes to find an AAPI actor between the ages of 25 and 30, here is a list, and so you can you can no longer say, “We want to work with marginalized communities but we just can’t find anyone.”
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What’s the status of the network? How is it being funded?
We are not going to be doing crowdsourcing, but I am doing private fundraising. I am really interested in talking with the Netflixes and the IMDbs of the world because this will help them directly in finding the people that will be on their shows, so I am working on that. Our early partners include A&E Networks, CBS Diversity, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America. We’re in beta and we already have thousands of people who have signed up and are ready to create their profiles; we just need to create the network to meet that demand and ensure that our ecosystem is agile and responsive to their needs.
Where did the name of the network come from? Why Akuarel?
I have a friend who is a creative, and when she was a child she loved to paint and write and draw. Her parents presented her with a box of watercolors by Aquarelle. And there were all kinds of browns and red and yellows that she had never seen before, and it opened up the opportunities of the world for her. So, for us, spelled a little differently, Akuarel is going to open up opportunities for people of color and marginalized communities and give them opportunities they didn’t have.