Academy President Reacts to #OscarsSoWhite as Jada, Spike Pledge Boycott

By Sameer Rao Jan 19, 2016

The furor around the 2016 Oscars’ Whiteness has grown so much that even the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that runs the awards, has criticized this year’s "lack of inclusion."

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is Black, issued a statement on the controversy yesterday (January 18). From The Hollywood Reporter

"I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees," she said. "While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. 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," Boone Isaacs said in what amounted to a rare and unusual move on the part of the Academy.

"As many of you know," she continued, "we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly."

Isaacs’ response comes after a week of pushback regarding this year’s nominations, which echoed previous years’ exclusion of Black performers. Jada Pinkett Smith (whose husband, Will, was not nominated for his role in "Concussion" despite a Golden Globe nomination) and Spike Lee (who received an honorary Oscar this year) both pledged to boycott this year’s ceremony. Pinkett Smith and Lee both took to social media yesterday to talk about the issue. Pinkett Smith’s Facebook video implored viewers not to beg for the Academy’s acceptance:

The Academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose, to invite whomever to choose. And now, I think that it’s our responsibility now, to make the change. Maybe it is time that we pull back our resources, and we put them back into our communities, into our programs, and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit, that are just as good as the so-called "mainstream" ones…. Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes our dignity and diminishes our power.

Lee wrote a two-part Instagram post featuring a picture of a young Dr. King, where he explained that change needs to happen at the executive level: 

As I see it, the Academy Awards is not where the “real” battle is. It’s in the executive office of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks. This is where the gatekeepers decide what gets made and what gets jettisoned to “turnaround” or scrap heap. This is what’s important. The gatekeepers. Those with “the green light” vote. As the great actor Leslie Odom Jr. sings and dances in the game changing Broadway musical “Hamilton,” “I wanna be in the room where it happens.” People, the truth is we ain’t in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly [sic] white.

Pinkett Smith and Lee both received criticism from peers. Director John Singleton (who, with "Boyz n The Hood," was the first Black nominee for the "Best Director" Oscar) told Variety that there’s more at play with Oscar nominations than racism and that snubbed films may benefit from retrospective praise in a positive way:

Every year there’s at least a few films that don’t get nominated and you have all these films that do get nominated and then the films that aren’t nominated are elevated over time. "Do the Right Thing" never got nominated for best picture, [but nobody’s] talking about [that year’s winner] "Driving Miss Daisy" anymore. Everybody’s still talking about "Do the Right Thing." It happens every year.

Janet Hubert, who played the first Aunt Viv on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" released an expletive-filled video criticizing Pinkett Smith for even raising the issue of Oscars exclusion:

There’s a lot of shit going on in the world that you all don’t seem to recognize. People are dying, our boys are being shot left and right, people are hungry, people are starving, people are trying to pay bills, and you talking about some motherfucking actors and Oscars. And, it just ain’t that deep…. You ain’t Barack and Michelle Obama, and y’all need to get over yourselves. You have a huge production company that you only produce your friends, your family and yourself. So you are a part of Hollywood, you are a part of the system that is unfair to other actors. 

Hubert’s video took on a personal note, citing Smith’s alleged refusal to collectively bargain with his "Fresh Prince" costars for a raise. 

(H/t The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, Variety, CNN