David Oyelowo, Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith Protest Oscars’ Lack of Diversity

Lee and Pinkett Smith both boycott the ceremony.
Film + TV
David Oyelowo, Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith Protest Oscars’ Lack of Diversity

Lee and Pinkett Smith both boycott the ceremony.

Words: Marty Sartini Garner

January 19, 2016

Yesterday, in separate statements, Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith both announced that they would be boycotting this year’s Academy Awards over the lack of inclusion of actors and actresses of color. The twenty acting nominees—for Best Actor and Actress, as well as Best Supporting Actor and Actress—are all white for the second year in a row.

Lee wrote of his frustrations with the Academy in the caption of an Instagram photo of Martin Luther King Jr, as CNN reports. “[I] mean no disrespect to my friends, host Chris Rock and producer Reggie Hudlin, [Academy] President [Cheryl Boone] Isaacs, and The Academy. But how is it possible for the 2nd consecutive year all 20 contenders under the actor category are white?” Lee wrote. “40 white actors in 2 years and no flava at all. We can’t act?!”

Lee went on to discuss the perennial problem and his role as perceived spokesperson for the African-American filmmaking community. “For too many years when the Oscar nominations are revealed, my office phone rings off the hook with the media asking me my opinion about the lack of African-Americans and this year was no different. For once (maybe), I would like the media to ask all the white nominees and studio heads how they feel about another all white ballot.”

#OscarsSoWhite… Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. Dr. King Said “There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. 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 Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. 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 White. (Cont’d)

A photo posted by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

Pinkett Smith, meanwhile, announced in a Facebook video that she wouldn’t even be watching the ceremony on TV. “Is it time that people of color recognize how much power and influence we have amassed, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere?” she said. “I ask the question: have we now come to a new time and place where we recognize that we can no longer beg for the love, acknowledge, or respect of any group?”

Lack of diversity among nominees has long been a major issue for the Academy. Halle Berry, who won Best Actress in 2002 for Monster’s Ball, is still the only African-American woman to win the category in the ceremony’s eighty-eight years.

Oscar host Chris Rock went so far as to call the ceremony “The White BET Awards”  in response.

The composition of this year’s nominees prompted Academy president Isaacs (who is African-American herself) to issue a statement on the issue yesterday. “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,” she wrote. “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.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of over 6,000 members. Each member selects five potential nominees in each category in order of preference, and nominations go to the highest number of vote receivers.

“As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four yeas. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like,” Isaacs said.

Last night, at a gala event honoring Isaacs, Selma‘s David Oyelowo departed from his prepared statement to address the issue. “This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation,” he said. Isaacs and Oyelowo apparently met after last year’s nominations were announced and his performance in Selma was overlooked. “We had a deep and meaningful [conversation],” he said, according to Vulture. “For twenty 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.”