On the morning of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, just a few days after the Academy Award nominations revealed another year of four categories of exclusively white nominees, Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith took to social media to tell the world that they would be boycotting the Oscars.
“We cannot support it,” Lee posted on Instagram – with a photo of Dr. King in his cap and gown at his undergrad commencement. Lee wrote that he and his wife will not be attending the Academy Awards ceremony next month, though he means “no disrespect to my friends, host Chris Rock and producer Reggie Hudlin, President [Cheryl Boone] Isaacs, and the Academy.”
Lee called out the four acting categories both this year and last year that launched the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite: “40 white actors in 2 years and no flava at all. We can”t act?! WTF!!” (See his full Instagram post below.)
#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)
Lee himself has two Oscar nominations – one for writing “Do the Right Thing” and one for the documentary “4 Little Girls” – along with an honorary award from the Academy he received last November. While accepting that award at the Academy”s Governors Awards ceremony, he called out Hollywood”s diversity problem then too: “Everybody in here probably voted for Obama, but when I go to offices, I see no black folks except for the brother man at the security who checks my name off the list as I go into the studio,” Lee said.
Pinkett Smith”s post came on Facebook in a video very early Monday morning. Like Lee, she gave her best to this year”s host (one of five African-Americans to have hosted the Oscars in the show”s history – Rock also hosted in 2004). “Hey Chris, I will not be at the Academy Awards, and I won”t be watching, but I can”t think of a better man to do the job this year than you, my friend,” she said in the video.
The “Gotham” actress also said, “Begging for acknowledgement or even asking diminishes dignity and diminishes power. And we are a dignified people and we are powerful.” She suggested, instead of asking for recognition from “mainstream” groups (like the Academy), minorities could put their time and resources into their own programs and communities that “acknowledge us in ways that we see fit.”
Pinkett Smith”s husband, Will Smith, was considered by some Oscars prognosticators to be a contender this awards season for his performance in “Concussion.”
Back in Lee”s post, he recognized 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.”
He also quoted hit Broadway show ‘Hamilton” – which has largely black and Hispanic cast depicting the story of Alexander Hamilton and other Founding Fathers – with Aaron Burr”s line of desire to be part of political change: “I wanna be in the room where it happens.”
So the Oscars ceremony on February 28 next month will have no Lee or Pinkett Smith in attendance (it”s reasonable to assume they were or would have been invited). The question now is, will other actors and filmmakers follow suit? The show”s host and producer and the Academy president are black, but with so many of the nominees being white, the telecast”s producers are likely eager to take any opportunity to get more diversity into the show with its attendees and presenters. This puts people like Gael García Bernal, Idris Elba, Angela Bassett, and Morgan Freeman (who all have movies opening in March – a good reason to take on presenting duties at the late-February Oscars) in an awkward position: Do they follow Lee and Pinkett Smith”s lead, or do they help bring what diversity there”s left to bring to the 2016 Oscars by taking that Dolby Theater stage? Will they find other ways to respond to the nominations that”s got #OscarsSoWhite trending again? How will others in Hollywood respond? We”ll see.