#OscarsSoWhite, or To Boycott or Not to Boycott?

People of colour discuss the lack of diversity in nominees

Greg Hernadez / Wikimedia Commons

The Academy Awards seldom fail to present boundless glitz and glimmer, but on the diversity front, they’re undeniably lacking. Less than 150 people of colour have been nominated over the past 87 years. The Academy’s questionable nominee picks have been a topic of discussion for years, yet they’ve become particularly apparent now in 2016. Every one of the acting nominees on the list this year was white, as were most listed in other categories.

It’s easy to point fingers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—which includes the Oscars’ voting membership—for this overwhelming whiteness. After all, they decide who will be nominated and who will win an award. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Los Angeles Times, 94 per cent of the voters in the AMPAS were Caucasian, which doesn’t help their case. It’s unclear how drastically that percentage has shrunk over the past four years, but judging by the minimal increase in non-white nominees, it can’t be by much.

Before the controversial nominees were announced, the Oscars had already hired actor/comedian of colour Chris Rock to host the 2016 award show. Despite this, Rock referred to it as “The White BET Awards” on his Twitter account and consequently got Jada Pinkett-Smith’s attention. She also took to Twitter, suggesting that “people of colour refrain from participating [in the event] all together.”

Thus 2016’s boycott of the Oscars was born.

On Martin Luther King’s birthday, Pinkett-Smith posted a follow-up video reinforcing her decision and encouraging others to do the same. By doing so she received an enormous amount of support, and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending on Twitter for the second year in a row. However, some people of colour disagreed with Pinkett-Smith’s campaign. Ex-Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actress, Janet Hubert, responded to her video:

“There’s a lot of shit going on in the world that you all don’t seem to recognize. People are dying. Our boys are being shot left and right. People are hungry. People are starving. People are trying to pay bills. And you’re talking about some motherfucking actors and Oscars. It just ain’t that deep.”

Hubert’s side of the argument did gain some steam. Whoopi Goldberg recommended boycotting films lacking diversity rather than awards ceremonies, seeing as it makes a greater economic impact. Others suggested that making a fuss over the lack of diversity was disrespectful to the current nominees, and that perhaps white people simply make the best movies.

Still, for the most part, the public was demanding apologies and action. And they did receive it—the president of AMPAS, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, stated:

“I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes.”

She then promised to “alter the makeup of [their] membership . . . and bring about much-needed diversity in [the] 2016 class and beyond.”

In response, Jada Pinkett-Smith tweeted that she is “look[ing] forward to the future.”