The growing backlash over Oscars snubs

By Emily Yahr

The film Straight Outta Compton was snubbed by the Oscars.
The film Straight Outta Compton was snubbed by the Oscars.

The 2016 Academy Awards nominations were announced almost a week ago, but the controversy over the nominees - or non-nominees - is only increasing.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences experienced a severe backlash when it was revealed that - for the second year in a row - all 20 acting nominees were white.

The lack of diversity was surprising because of the critically acclaimed slate of movies led by people of color over the past year, including Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation, Creed, Chi-Raq and Tangerine. Will Smith was also overlooked for his Golden Globe-nominated role in Concussion.

Idris Elba in the Netflix original film, Beasts of No Nation.
Idris Elba in the Netflix original film, Beasts of No Nation.

The lone nominations received by Creed and Straight Outta Compton went to white actors and writers, as Sylvester Stallone landed a nomination for Creed, for best supporting actor, while Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff received a best original screenplay nod for Straight Outta Compton.

Days of outrage from the Hollywood community followed, and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral once again on social media. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (the first black woman to hold the position) issued a statement Monday night and said she was "both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion," pledging change for the future.

"This is a difficult but important conversation, and it's time for big changes," she said. "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."

Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson in Creed.
Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson in Creed.

A 2014 Los Angeles Times study found that out of around 6,000 members, the film academy was 93 percent white and 76 percent male. A couple of years earlier, the paper found that only 2 percent of members were black, and fewer than 2 percent were Latino. The academy would not release updated statistics; last year, the organization extended invitations to 322 new members with a focus on diverse demographics.

That was after last year's Oscars, when actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay of the much-lauded Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma were notably snubbed.

"The academy has a problem," Oyelowo said Monday night at an industry event in Los Angeles that honored Boone Isaacs. "It's a problem that needs to be solved."

David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.
David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.

He said that after his performance in Selma failed to result in an Oscar nomination, Boone Isaacs invited him to her office to talk. "We had a deep and meaningful (conversation)," he said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable."

Oyelowo wasn't the only celebrity to speak out. Director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith posted messages on social media explaining why they would not be attending the Oscars.

Director Spike Lee. Photo / AP
Director Spike Lee. Photo / AP

Lee, who directed Chi-Raq and was awarded an honorary Oscar in November, said nothing will change until Hollywood's executive suites look much different. "The truth is we ain't in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lily white," he wrote on Instagram.

In a Facebook video, Pinkett Smith echoed similar sentiments. She also tweeted about whether people of color should refrain from attending the ceremony. "Begging for acknowledgment or even asking diminishes dignity and diminishes power. And we are a dignified people and we are powerful and let's not forget it," she said in the video. "So let's let the academy do them, with all grace and love, and let's do us differently."

We must stand in our power.

Posted by Jada Pinkett Smith on Monday, January 18, 2016

Chris Rock, who will host the Oscars on Feb. 28, dryly referred to the ceremony as the "White BET Awards" on Twitter.

Boone Isaacs acknowledged in her statement that although the academy has made an effort to diversify its membership, "change is not coming as fast we would like."

"This isn't unprecedented for the academy. In the '60s and '70s, it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation," Boone Isaacs said. "We recognise the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together."

- Washington Post

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