#OscarsSoWhite Creator Endorses Oscar Boycott

April Reign
@reignofapril/Twitter

In the wake of Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith saying they won't attend this year's Academy Awards, April Reign, who created the hashtag that focuses on the lack of minority nominees, is urging others to do the same.

In the wake of the announcements by Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith that they will not attend this year’s Oscars because of the lack of black nominees, April Reign, who created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite is calling for a boycott of the Feb. 28 awards ceremony. “It will be on an even grander scale” than a grass-roots boycott Reign took part in last year, she said. “What we are saying is: If you are concerned about the lack of inclusion and diversity in Hollywood, don’t watch the program. Engage in some counter-programming instead. And speak also with our dollars at the movies.”

Reign, who is managing editor of the website broadwayblack.com, created the hashtag last year, when all the acting nominees were white. When history repeated itself when this year’s nominations were announced Jan. 14, “I was disappointed but not surprised in the lack of nominations of people of color and those of marginalized communities,” she said. “It’s unfortunate. Although Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has attempted to make some changes with respect to diversity by inviting over 300 new members into the Academy last year, those changes did not reflect a difference with respect to how films are nominated and how people are celebrated for their achievements.”

While neither Lee, who was awarded an honorary Oscar in November, or Pinkett Smith used the word "boycott" in announcing their intentions not to attend, they set the stage for a possible boycott, and Reign endorsed Pinkett Smith’s words, saying her “statement was a strong one. We can be asked to host and to present, but when it comes to receiving an award, our names are not called. If your name is not going to be called, if people who look like you and share your experiences are not going to be lauded, then why even go?”

Reign did not call for those who may have already agreed to take part as presenters to cancel their plans, but urged them to use any appearances at the show “to speak out and take a stand about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. I don’t think there’s just one way accomplish it.” As for Chris Rock, who is scheduled to emcee the event, she said, “I think Chris Rock was chosen as the host in part because he has a biting political and social commentary. On his Twitter, he’s already called the Oscars the white BET awards, so I suspect he’ll be mentioning the overall issues as well on the broadcast.”

In addition to coining the #OscarsSoWhite hastag last year, Reign used her Twitter account, which has 18,800 followers, to live-tweet the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America last year while the Oscar broadcast was taking place and is planning a similar effort this year. “We chose that film very intentionally because although it has a majority black cast, it resonates with everyone," she said. "And that is the point. If it’s quality work, it will bring moviegoers to the seats. So the argument that blacks can’t open movies and women can’t open movies holds no water when we have Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has grossed over $1 billion worldwide and has a female lead and a black male lead.”

Addressing concerns about the lack of diversity in this year's nominees, Boone Isaacs issued a statement Jan. 18 in which she said she was "heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion," and added that it's "time for big changes."

While acknowledging Boone Isaacs’ efforts to change the makeup of the Academy, Reign noted that the organization remains largely male, older and white. “Older white males don’t necessarily have the impetus to change the status quo,” she said. “I wonder if it makes sense to review how people become members, how people remain members and the requirements with respect to voting. For example, we know that it is not required that members actually view the movies before they vote on them. So that’s an issue, because if you are an older white male perhaps you are voting based on personal feelings. You’re voting for someone like Clint Eastwood, someone maybe that you know personally or who you’ve dealt with before or whose name you know and who is popular to you, not necessarily for the best.”

She also suggested that the Academy may have to review its voting procedures, such as the current practice that sees the members of each branch nominate the specific awards that pertain to that branch. “On the first ballot, directors only vote for directors, and screenwriters only vote for screenwriters,” Reign observed. “Well, if we’re talking about an institution that has only had white male directors, then again they may not have the impetus to make change and vote for somebody outside of their comfort zone, and that’s a concern.”

Reign said of the statements from Lee and Pinkett Smith, “I’m encouraged by that. I think it’s important that we as moviegoers and those in the industry speak out about this very important issue. I would hope we would see more [speaking out] and not just black film creatives, because this is an issue that affects everyone. White people should be speaking out, too. Asian people, LGBTQ people as well. We have a great film, Tangerine, about trans women that was snubbed by the Oscars, and yet Eddie Redmayne plays a trans woman and he gets nominated for the role. Why couldn’t a trans woman have played that role? Those are the questions I would like to see asked. The Martian with Matt Damon, he was great in that movie. But why couldn’t that have been Jamie Foxx or Javier Bardem? Both are established actors who open at the box office. Were they asked to audition, did they have a shot at it? Those are the questions that #OscarsSoWhite speaks to.”

Addressing the larger goals of #OscarsSoWhite, Reign said, “I want to make clear, this is not a question of tokenism. #OscarsSoWhite is not about having a person of color nominated in every category. It’s about ensuring that quality work is being made that reflects all of American society, and then letting the chips fall where they may and nominating the best performances. In addition, I’ve seen the phrase ‘begging for validation,’ especially from fellow black members of the community, and this is not about that. I think people of color and marginalized communities should support their own awards shows like the NAACP Image Awards or the ALMA Awards. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling to task the largest institution with respect to the film industry and saying, ‘Things have to change.’ You wouldn’t tell the LGBTQ community that is dealing with homophobia to just go off and be by yourselves. No, you challenge the structure that is being homophobic and that way you try to make systemic change. And it’s the same issue here.”

“This is not all on the Academy,” she added, “It also needs to speak to Hollywood as a greater entity. When producers are sitting around board rooms and deciding which films are going to be greenlit, they need to have open minds ensuring that stories that highlight the complexity and the diversity and the nuance of people of color, of the people of this country overall, are being shown on the big screen. Really, the pressure needs to be put on the Hollywood studio heads, because they are the ones who make the decisions with respect to greenlighting films.” 

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