NEW YORK, Jan 19, (Agencies): Amid calls for a boycott of the Academy Awards over its all-white acting nominees and Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith both announcing they would sit out this year’s ceremony, the academy’s president said it was time for major changes — and soon.
Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a statement promising more diversity, and quickly, after both Lee and Pinkett spoke out on Monday.
In a lengthy Instagram post, Lee said he “cannot support” the “lily white” Oscars. Noting that he was writing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lee — who in November was given an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards — said he was fed up: “Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all,” he wrote. “We can’t act?!”
In a video message on Facebook, Pinkett Smith also said she wouldn’t attend or watch the Oscars in February. Pinkett Smith, whose husband Will Smith wasn’t nominated for his performance in the NFL head trauma drama “Concussion,” said it was time for people of color to disregard the Academy Awards.
“Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power,” she said. “And we are a dignified people and we are powerful.”
She added: “Let’s let the academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do us differently.” The video had amassed 4.5 million by mid-Monday afternoon.
Last year’s all-white acting nominees also drew calls for a boycott, though not from such prominent individuals as Lee and Pinkett Smith. Whether it had any impact or not, the audience for the broadcast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, was down 16 percent from the year prior, a six-year low.
Isaacs has made a point of presenting a more inclusive show this year. The Feb. 28 broadcast will be hosted by Chris Rock and produced by “Django Unchained” producer Reginald Hudlin and David Hill. On Saturday, Rock, unveiling a new promotion for the broadcast, called the ceremony “The White BET Awards.”
The academy didn’t respond to messages left Monday.
When Oscar nominations were announced Thursday, Isaacs acknowledged she was “disappointed” that all 20 acting nominees were again white and promised to “continue the conversation” on diversity. Isaacs has worked to diversify membership for the academy, which a 2012 study by the Los Angeles Times found is overwhelming white and male.
But on Monday, Isaacs was more explicit and promised an examination of the academy and a more intense drive to diversify.
“This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes,” she said in a statement released Monday night. “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.”
Many awards handicappers expected nominations for Idris Elba of “Beasts of No Nation” and Benicio Del Toro for “Sicario.” The N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton” also failed to earn a best picture nomination, despite some predictions it would. Ryan Coogler’s acclaimed Rocky sequel “Creed” scored only a nomination only for Sylvester Stallone. (Lee’s own movie, the Chicago gang violence hip-hop musical “Chi-Raq” — celebrated by some and scorned by others — also went unnoticed.)
The hashtag “OscarsSoWhite,” created last year, was quickly resurrected online following the nominations. Rev. Al Sharpton — who last year met with former Sony head Amy Pascal following leaked emails that some viewed as racist — on Friday lambasted the academy.
“Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher up you get the whiter it gets and this year’s Academy Awards will be yet another Rocky Mountain Oscar,” said Sharpton.
In his post, Lee made it clear the Academy Awards is only part of the problem in an industry with deep-rooted diversity issues. In his Governors Awards speech, Lee said “It’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than be the head of a studio.”
“The Academy Awards is not where the ‘real’ battle is,” wrote Lee on Tuesday. “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.”
The Academy has some 6,000 members, all of whom work in the film industry and are elected by their peers for life.
According to a 2012 study by the Los Angeles Times, nearly 94 percent of the Academy voters are white and mostly male. The Times found that blacks account for two percent of the Academy and Latinos are less than two percent.
Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the Times study showed, and people younger than 50 constitute 14 percent of the membership.
While Lee and Smith have called for an Oscar boycott, John Singleton, who became the first African-American nominated for the best director Academy Award for his 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood,” doesn’t have a problem with this year’s diversity-lacking nominations.
Singleton, who’s directing an episode of FX’s upcoming “People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” says the nominees depend less on race and more on what’s eligible in a given year’s award cycle.
“There’s only so many slots, though,” Singleton told Variety when asked why the Academy did not nominate any African-American nominees. “There are a couple of movies that may have (warranted attention) but … It’s all subjective. It’s almost like the lottery.”
Singleton continued, “It’s like every year people complain. People even complain even when we have a lot of nominations. It is what it is. I’ve been in the game for 25 years. You never know — it’s the luck of the draw for you. To me, I’m not surprised. I’m not disappointed either, as much as other people are disappointed. There’s a whole elevation of work that happens.”
Elaborating on that “elevation,” Singleton explains that each year, films are snubbed, and some of those unrepresented projects gain awareness and recognition after award season.
“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 that year, nobody’s talking about ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ any more. Everybody’s still talking about ‘Do the Right Thing.’ It happens every year.”
Though he was nominated for “Boyz n the Hood” (marking not only the first black director to be nominated, but also the youngest person ever in that category at the age of 24), Singleton recalls a piece of advice he received at that time.