Oscars Boycott

A news clip from CBC News Toronto on the Oscar Academy Awards Boycott.

Are the Oscars, officially known as the Academy Awards, the “White BET Awards”? Even Saturday Night Live is talking about it. After two consecutive years of no people of color being nominated for acting awards, actress Jada Pinkett Smith and actor, writer, director, and producer Spike Lee announced on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, that they will not attend the Oscars. In 2015, top ten box office hits like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Inside Out, Furious 7, and The Martian all had major characters who are people of color. However, most of the dispute is over men who were not nominated but who many believed deserved to be recognized, such as Idris Elba for his role in Beasts of No Nation, Will Smith for his role in Concussion, Michael B. Jackson for his role in Creed, as well as O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell for their roles in Straight Outta Compton. In an Instagram post, Lee began the hashtag trend #OscarSoWhite, encouraging others to recognize the lack of diversity in the nominees. Lee’s call for action lead Will Smith and Snoop Dogg to join the boycott, as well as many other actors and actresses, to share their support for diversification.

Spike Lee, who received an Honorary Academy Award in November of 2015 for filmmaking, believes that this the root of the problem is deeper than the nominations, stating, “‘real’ battle [over racism] is… in the executive office of the Hollywood Studios and TV and cable networks.” This issue was brought up last spring at the Emmy Awards by Viola Davis’ in her acceptance speech for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her performance in How To Get Away With Murder. She stated that, “The only thing that separates women of color from everybody else is opportunity,” followed by, “You cannot win an Emmy [Award] for roles that are simply not there.”

In a recent video, Jada Pinkett Smith urges people of color to realize what power they have gained over the years and to not “ask to be invited” to the Oscars. She says that, “begging for acknowledgement or even asking for it diminishes dignity,” so she sends out the message to “let the Academy do them, and … do us differently.” In an ABC news interview, her husband Will Smith said that he was unaware that Jada planned to boycott the Oscars when she originally posted the video. Will believes that had he been nominated for his role in Concussion, and was the only person of color nominated, Jada would have still made the video. He says her choice was, “so deeply not about [him]” but instead was a push to make sure all people could see themselves represented in some way by the nominees because “diversity is America’s superpower.”

Musician 50 Cent has asks this year’s Oscar host, African American comedian Chris Rock, to “please do not do the Oscar awards,” stating, “you mean a lot man, don’t do it.” Despite pressure to speak out, Rock has remained mostly silent about the boycott, except a recent tweet, when he referred to the award show as the “White BET Awards.” According to Rolling Stone, he plans to speak out about the lack of diversity in his monologue at the Awards.

Film stars like Whoopi Goldberg believe that the Oscars are not what needs to be boycotted, but instead people should boycott movies that lack diversity while they are still in theaters. In an interview with The View, Goldberg stated that believes boycotting the awards is “a slap in the face to [host] Chris Rock”. Ashia Harris of Slate hopes that people of color will attend the Awards and use it as a platform to be heard. At the 1988 Academy Awards, Eddie Murphy spoke out about racism in the film industry before announcing the Best Picture Award by saying, “black people will not ride the caboose of society, and we will not bring up the rear anymore, and I want you to recognize us.”

Others blame the lack of diversity on the Academy member make-up. According to a report by The Los Angeles Times, 94% of Oscar voters are white, 76% are male, and the average age of voters is 63. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the new African American female Academy President, says that she is “both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion” and that “it’s time for big changes.” In a recent statement, Isaacs stated that the Academy will be altering their membership make-up so that in future years all achievements are awarded, no matter gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, but recognizes that changes are not coming fast enough.

Collegiate’s own movie expert, Upper School English teacher Josh Katz, believes that, “the Oscars tend to showcase the most popular movies or the most self-important ones, rather than, y’know, the actual best ones.” While, throughout the years, Hollywood has involved more diversity in filmmaking and acting, the Oscars do no represent this change. He is believes that Straight Outta Compton and Creed, like many of the nominated films, were not masterpieces; however, the awards should recognize the “great African-American talent” and not just the white supporting actors. He poses the question: “Why do we spend so much time lauding Leonardo DiCaprio for eating raw meat and swimming in freezing rivers [in the film The Revenant] while ignoring the just-as-impressive physical rigors of Michael B. Jordan in Creed?” Katz believes that Hollywood will never be able to separate art from politics, and while boycotting the Oscars will not cure all of America’s diversity problems, it is a start.

Cover photo by Dora Han.

About the author

Elizabeth Murphy is a junior at Collegiate.