The Oscars Blackout – Black Hollywood reacts to lack of diversity among Oscar nominations

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(AP) – A year after host Neil Patrick Harris quipped that the Oscars were honoring Hollywood’s “best and Whitest,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled yet another all-White slate of acting nominees on Jan. 14, prompting a dismayed revival of the “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag.

Many also expressed regret that the highly admired N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton failed to score a best picture nod, despite being recognized in other contests. In acting categories, omissions included Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation and Will Smith in Concussion.

Those voicing disappointment included the academy’s president herself, Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

“I really was disappointed,” Isaacs stated when asked about Compton. “Fabulous movie, fabulous movie.” The film did receive a screenplay nomination (for, some noted on Twitter, its White screenwriters, not its Black cast or director).

But Isaacs, who is Black, added that the Oscar nominations are part of a much broader conversation in the entertainment industry about diversity – and that change would happen, albeit slowly.

“What is important is that this entire conversation of diversity is here and we are talking about it,” Isaacs said. “And I think we will not just talk, because people will say, ‘Well don’t just talk, you gotta do,’ (but) talking gets to the doing, and we are going to do. … It is an industry-wide situation and we need to continue this conversation. We need to bring in new talent, to nourish the talent, to allow it to flourish and to give us all the diversity of storytelling which is what the motion picture business is all about.”

There was widespread surprise that the lack of diversity persisted despite the marked backlash a year ago when – like this year – all acting nominees were White and there was only one director of color, eventual winner Alejandro Inarritu – who was also nominated this year for The Revenant. The most notable omissions involved the lauded civil rights drama Selma; both its director, Ava DuVernay, and its star, David Oyelowo, were passed over.

“It’s business as usual at the academy,” said Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association, on Jan. 14. “We’ll have to try again. After the whole debacle with Selma and Ava DuVernay, you would have thought some lessons would have been learned. Nothing for Will Smith. Nothing for Idris Elba. Irony of ironies, the only actor who received a nomination for Creed is White.”

He was referring to Sylvester Stallone, who got a supporting actor nod for reprising his role as Rocky Balboa. Co-star Michael B. Jordan was not nominated, nor was director Ryan Coogler.

Film producer and director Reginald Hudlin, who is co-producer of this year’s Oscar telecast, called the situation “frustrating.”

“Maybe if there’s 50 great films by Black filmmakers, they will get three nominations,” said Hudlin, who produced Django Unchained.

“And again, that’s not putting down the movies that are nominated, they’re wonderful,” he said. “It’s just a frustrating thing that the voting doesn’t reflect what America is saying very loud and clear, what the world is saying very loud and clear.”

Many tweeted their disapproval on Thursday.

“I love @TheSlyStallone,” wrote indie director Joe Carnahan, “But Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson & Ryan Coogler don’t get noms for CREED!? Come on Academy.”

“Zero nonwhite actors have been nominated for Oscars,” tweeted the Tribeca Film Festival. “There’s no excuse.”

On Monday, Director Spike Lee tweeted a statement to The Academy, thanking them for his honorary Oscar in November. He then stated that he and his wife would not be attending the awards ceremony.

“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!!” he expressed. “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.’”

Jada Pinkett Smith uploaded a video on Facebook announcing her boycott of the Oscars on Monday.

“Hi, today is Martin Luther King’s birthday, and I can’t help but ask the question, ‘Is it time for people of color to recognize how much power influence that we have amass, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere?’” she stated. “I ask the question, ‘Have we now come to a new time and place that we can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgement or respect of any group?’ Maybe it’s time that we recognize that if we love, respect and acknowledge ourselves in a way in which we are asking others to do, that that is the place of true power.”

Her message included a note to Rock that she won’t attend or watch, but thought he was perfect for the “job at hand.”

Compton did receive a screenwriting nod, and one of its writers said she sees hope for change on the diversity issue in Hollywood.

“I was actually at a town hall meeting on diversity last night, and I think it’s an exciting time to be having this conversation in Hollywood,” writer Andrea Berloff said. “It is not being ignored, and there’s a lot of us working at a more grassroots level to try to turn the tides.”

Berloff added that there was a key positive note for women in the nominations list: four women nominated for their screenplays this year.

“That’s a huge success,” she said, “and I hope we can really take the time to celebrate. It’s a huge victory.”

Pinkett Smith, however, doesn’t believe that waiting for acknowledgement is the answer.

“Here’s what I believe, the academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose, to invite whomever they 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 community, 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-call ‘mainstream’ ones.”

Michael Cidoni Lennox, Sandy Cohen and Jake/Associated Press along with Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this report.

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