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Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith Boycotting 2016 Oscars, Chris Rock Calls Out Academy for ‘White BET Awards’

Gary Gershoff / Jason Merritt, Getty Images
Gary Gershoff / Jason Merritt, Getty Images

For the second year in a row, every actor nominated in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards is a white person. All 20 nominees for Best Actor and Actress and Best Supporting Actor and Actress are white people, reigniting the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. And while many of us are comfortable in our power to merely comment via social media, there are a couple of strong voices who are fed up and ready to do something about it: director Spike Lee and actor Jada Pinkett Smith have announced plans to boycott the Oscars this year, while the host of the 2016 awards himself has called the Academy out for their persistent negligence to nominate people of color.

The Oscars are not entirely white this year, as The Revenant director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu received a nomination, but he is the exception to the majority white rule. Although Spike Lee received an Honorary Oscar this year for his enduring work as a powerful voice in cinema, the director has decided to boycott the ceremony itself, posting an open letter to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and President Cheryl Boone Isaacs on Instagram, aptly incorporating a quote from the late Martin Luther King Jr. today, on MLK’s birthday:

#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)

A photo posted by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

Jada Pinkett Smith joined Lee in boycotting the Oscars after her husband, fellow actor Will Smith, was one of many people of color to not receive a nomination this year. Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in Concussion, and has been nominated twice for an Oscar, in 2002 and 2007.

Pinkett Smith posted this video to Facebook with the caption, “We must stand in our power”:

We must stand in our power!We must stand in our power.

Posted by Jada Pinkett Smith on Monday, January 18, 2016

The actor shared words of support to 2016 Oscars host Chris Rock, but maintained that she will neither attend the ceremony nor watch the telecast. Pinkett Smith maintains that, “Begging for acknowledgment or even asking diminishes dignity and diminishes power,” adding, “And we are a dignified people. And we are powerful. Let’s not forget it. So let’s let the Academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do us.”

Pinkett Smith was among one of the many actors of color whom fans and pundits felt deserved a nomination for her supporting role in Magic Mike XXL, a film in which she — and her message of empowerment — nearly steals the show.

As if to add insult to injury, Straight Outta Compton received a nomination only for Best Original Screenplay, for a screenplay written by four white people. Similarly, the only nod for Creed went to the one notable white person in the cast, with Sylvester Stallone receiving a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and many feeling as though director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan also deserved nods.

The Academy tends to skate by in the directing and Best Picture categories, occasionally doling out awards to films featuring predominantly black casts, typically inspiring criticisms of “white guilt” voting. In 2014, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o’s raw, powerful performance as Patsy. In 2015, Ava DuVernay’s Selma was notably nominated for Best Picture, though DuVernay herself failed to garner a nomination — if Selma is worthy of a Best Picture nod, why isn’t DuVernay worthy of Best Director; did Selma direct itself?

Instead, that film took home an award only for Best Original Song, with many members of a predominantly white audience memorably crying during John Legend and Common’s performance, which itself offered a surreal meta-commentary on the Oscars’ baffling racial preferences.

It’s unclear if more people of color intend to join Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith’s boycott of this year’s awards, which are — oddly enough — hosted by a black man. Chris Rock took to Twitter to share his latest promo for the event, rightfully calling it “The White BET Awards”:

Until the Academy invites a more diverse range of members to join its voting body — including more people of color, women and younger voters — we’re unlikely to see a change in the kinds of films and color / gender of creatives who receive nominations each year. But as they’ve shown no signs of real progress and continue to place blame on a restrictive studio system, the future of diversity at the Oscars, as of now, remains bleak.

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