Chris Rock has spoken out against the racism ingrained in Hollywood culture for years. It’s ironic that he’d end up being the host of the Oscars this year. With several stars boycotting the Academy Awards, there’s been a controversy around when the Academy Awards have generated more than its share of controversy.
On Thursday, January 14, the 2016 Oscar nominees were announced. It was also the second year where every nominee identifies as white. Immediately, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended on Twitter.
Jada Pinkett Smith Calls for Boycott
The next day, Chris Rock tweeted an ad, calling the Oscars the “White BET Awards.” The first tweet suggesting a boycott of the show was on January 16 from Jada Pinkett Smith, who wrote “At the Oscars… people of color are always welcomed to give out awards… even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together?” (1 2) Will Smith, Jada’s husband, was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in Concussion, and would have been eligible for multiple Oscar nominations.
On Monday, January 18, Jada Pinkett Smith released a follow-up video on Facebook, bringing the campaign to her following on that site. Later that day, Oscar-winning director Spike Lee posted on Instagram, saying he would not be attending the Oscars. Both posts brought attention to the fact that it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Since Monday, there’s been a lot of discussion going about the Oscars and the boycott. Janet Hubert, who played Will Smith’s aunt in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, released her own video response criticizing Jada Pinkett Smith for her proposed boycott, saying the Oscars “ain’t that deep.”
Idris Elba, the English actor who portrayed a character far past his pale in Beasts of No Nation, spoke to the UK Parliament about the struggles actors of color face. David Oyelowo, also English, said “For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color… for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.” Oyelowo received no nomination for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in 2014’s Selma.
Academy President is “Heartbroken”
On Tuesday, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, released a statement addressing the lack of diversity among Award nominees. She expressed that she was “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion,” and stated that the Academy was taking “dramatic steps to alter the makeup of [their] membership.”
Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg, who hosts the View, spoke about the boycott on Tuesday. She questioned whether the Academy Awards was the right organization to boycott for the racism in film, since they are an awards organization, not responsible for producing or casting movies. George Clooney raised similar complaints.
Lupita Nyong’o, known for her role Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave, also criticized the Academy on her Instagram. She stated “The Awards should not dictate the terms of art in our modern society, but rather be a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has to offer today.” Snoop Dog, 50 Cent, and Tyrese Gibson have also supported the boycott.
Racism in Hollywood
The problem, at its core, is that in every major category, every nominee was white, which hasn’t occurred since the previous Oscars. Without a nomination two years in a row, many objections which were soothed by calling the lack of nominations in 2015 a fluke have been brought back up. There are so many different issues at play here, so it may be easier to look at what reasons people have given for why the Oscars shouldn’t be boycotted.
One criticism, popularized by Fox News correspondent Stacy Dash, says that if black people have the BET Awards, white people can have the Oscars. Even presidential candidate Donald Trump weighed in on the issue, calling the double standard about whites not being angry about not being nominated at the BET Awards a “difficult situation.” Dash and Trump’s argument disregards the perceived cultural merit of the Awards show, but that merit is subjective and arguable. What is less arguable is that the BET Awards have nominated and awarded multiple white people in various categories, since their inception. In fact, there has never been a year where BET did not nominate at least one white person, let alone two in a row.
Another criticism of the boycott, vocalized most publicly by Whoopi Goldberg and George Clooney, is that the boycott should be directed toward filmmakers and movie studios, not the Academy Awards. A common response to this is bringing attention to the fact that with 6000 members, 94% of the Academy Award members are white, and the average age is 63. Additionally, two movies (Straight Outta Compton and Creed,) starring black actors had white writers nominated for Oscars, while the actors playing those roles were not. Clearly, while there are issues of racism outside of the Academy Awards, they do not exist only outside the Academy Awards.
The other main point of contention is whether Chris Rock should step down as host of the Oscars. Many have called for him to step down, but others feel as though he would be able to lend a powerful voice in raising awareness of the racial biases in Hollywood through hosting the show. Others have said that no statement Chris Rock could make would be as powerful as him leaving the awards show.
At time of writing (2am EST 1/22) Chris Rock hasn’t made any statements indicating he would be stepping down as host of the awards.