On 28 February 2016, Hollywood’s elite will put on their finest clothes and walk the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California for the 88th Academy Awards, or “Oscars”.
However, some stars will be notably absent from this year’s ceremony, with director Spike Lee, actress Jada Pinkett Smith and others, planning to boycott the event due to a lack of diversity.
Lee took to Instagram to express his disappointment with the ‘white-washed’ nominations, writing “how is it possible that, for the second consecutive year, all of the 20 contenders in the acting category are white?”
“When the Oscar nominations are revealed, the media always ask my opinion about the lack of African-Americans and this year is no different,” he said.
View this post on Instagram
#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)
Jada Pinkett Smith also called on the African-American community to “stand in their power” in a video on Facebook.
“I think that it’s our responsibility now to make the change,” she said.
“At the Oscars, people of colour are always welcomed to give out awards, even entertain, but we are rarely recognised for our artistic accomplishments,” she added on Twitter.
“Should people of colour refrain from participating altogether?”
We must stand in our power.
Posted by Jada Pinkett Smith on Monday, 18 January 2016
O’Shea Jackson, Sr., also known as “Ice Cube”, who produced the hip-hop biopic Straight Outta Compton with a mostly black cast, also addressed the controversy on The Graham Norton Show last month.
“We don’t do movies for the industry; we do movies for the fans, for the people,” he said.
“And, you know, the industry, if they give you a trophy or not, or they pat you on the back or not, it’s nice, but it’s not something you should dwell on.”
Dr. Timothy Minchin, a Professor of North American History at La Trobe University, believes that there is an issue.
“The Academy Awards, or Oscars, have been running for 88 years and, in that time, only 14 black actors have won acting Oscars,” Minchin told upstart.
“14 in 88 years – that’s not very many.”
However, discrimination and exclusion extends beyond the African-American community.
“In 88 years, there was just five awards given to Latinos for acting, three for actors of Asian descent, and just one for an Indigenous actor,” Minchin said.
It reveals an unfortunate truth: ethnic minorities, whether African-American, Latinos or Native American, are vastly underrepresented in a film industry that is overwhelmingly white.
The Director’s Guild of America released an inaugural report, which showed that of the 376 directors who released feature films in 2013 to 2014, 82.4 per cent were Caucasian males, while only 6.4 per cent were women and 12.5 per cent were from an ethnic minority.
In 2012, The Los Angeles Times also revealed that the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is nearly 94 per cent Caucasian and 77 per cent male, while only 2 per cent are African-American and less than 2 per cent are Latino.
“It is a top-down problem,” Minchin said.
However, positive change is already occurring.
The Academy has approved “a sweeping series of substantive changes” to the voting and membership of its board to increase diversity.
It is also committed to “doubling the number of women and diverse members of the [group] by 2020”.
“This indicates that the boycott, or the threat of the boycott, is having some effect,” Minchin said.
“But it remains to be seen how much of an impact it will have, how much of a real change it will produce.”
Audiences also have the power to choose and to shape the film industry.
“When we buy a ticket, we allow something to exist, we allow a voice to exist,” Diego Luna, a Mexican actor, explained to Variety.
“It’s time for audiences to shape the industry we need and it’s always asking for the stories we want to see portrayed in cinema.”
Minchin agreed: “Everyone has the responsibility to raise awareness of this issue. There is much work to be done.”
Sheridan Lee is a third year journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on twitter here: @sheridanlee7.