Identity politics can go too far, and boycotts aren’t always the best response. But the appalling lack of diversity with Academy Award nominations has reached the point that the tactic is entirely justified.
Outspoken director Spike Lee, who received an honorary Oscar for his illustrious career, announced Jan. 18 that he’s skipping the Feb. 28 gala to protest the all-white nominations in all four acting categories for the second straight year.
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, whose husband, Will Smith, wasn’t nominated for his powerful performance in “Concussion,” said she’ll snub the ceremony. It seems likely that more prominent Hollywood types will join the boycott.
We don’t want tokenism, but was there really not one performance by a nonwhite actor worthy of one of the 20 nominations? That’s difficult to believe.
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In some ways, the oversight by the academy’s voting members is even more egregious this time. They knew they were in the spotlight after the controversy last year, symbolized by the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.
They passed over several acclaimed performances, including Idris Elba for “Beasts of No Nation,” Samuel L. Jackson for “The Hateful Eight” and Benicio Del Toro for “Sicario.” They managed to nominate Sylvester Stallone, reprising his Rocky Balboa role in “Creed,” but not lead actor Michael B. Jordan, whose performance was also mentioned as one of the year’s best.
“Straight Outta Compton,” which had a mostly black cast, was critically praised and commercially successful. But it wasn’t nominated for best picture, though two of the 10 potential slots were unfilled.
Comedian Chris Rock, who is African American and is scheduled to host the Oscars, tried to joke about the controversy. In a tweet, he called the ceremony “The white BET awards,” referring to Black Entertainment Television.
Sadly, it’s no laughing matter.
Lee, whose movies have often dealt with race, correctly pointed out that the issue goes beyond the Oscars to more opportunity for African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans to make movies. He said in his Instagram post that 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.”
While not life and death, movies are a big part of our culture.
If the Oscars and Hollywood want to stay relevant, they just have to do better. TV audiences and moviegoers were far more reflective of America’s diversity than the acting nominees or the faces on the screen.