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Will Smith is among the Hollywood stars disappointed by the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations, where for the second year in a row zero nonwhite actors were nominated for the Academy’s acting awards.
The Concussion star sat down with ABC News’ Robin Roberts for an interview that aired on Thursday’s Good Morning America and told her that he thinks this year’s nominees don’t reflect the beauty and greatness of America’s diversity.
“The beauty of Hollywood combined with American ideals is the ultimate dream for humanity: the basis of the American concept of anything is possible, with hard work and dedication, no matter your race or religion, creed, none of that matters in America,” said Smith. “I think that diversity is the American superpower. That’s why we are great. So many different people from so many different places adding their ideas and their inspiration and their influences to this beautiful American gumbo and for me, at its best, Hollywood represents and then creates the imagery for that beauty. But for my part, I think I have to fight for and protect the ideals that make our country and make our Hollywood community great. So when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it’s not reflecting that beauty.”
Smith didn’t receive the nomination many people believed he deserved for his Concussion role as Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered a disease caused by repeated head trauma experienced by professional football players and took on the NFL in his quest to have the truth be known. And while Smith emphatically insisted that all of this year’s nominated actors are “fantastic … and deserving,” he’s disturbed by the larger trend he sees reflected in the abundance of white nominees.
“I’ve been nominated twice for Academy Awards and I’ve never lost to a white person. The first time I lost to Denzel [Washington], and the second time I lost to Forest Whitaker,” Smith pointed out. “When I see this list and series of nominations that come out, and everybody is fantastic and that’s the complexity of this issue — everyone is beautiful and deserving and it’s fantastic — but it feels like it’s going the wrong direction. When I look at it, the nominations reflect the Academy, the Academy reflects the industry, reflects Hollywood. And then the industry reflects America, it reflects a series of challenges we’re having in our country at the moment. There’s a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony, and that’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind. That’s not the industry, that’s not the America that I want to leave behind.”
In one of a few funny moments in his otherwise serious interview, Smith revealed he didn’t know that his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, was planning to post her Facebook video in which she said she wouldn’t be attending this year’s Oscars due to this year’s all-white nominees.
“I was out of the country at the time, and I came home and I went, ‘What happened?,'” Smith told Roberts, who added that he told his wife he would have appreciated a little heads-up on her post. “She’s deeply passionate and when she is moved, she has to go. And I heard her words and I was knocked over. I was happy to be married to that woman. But I appreciated the push. There’s a position that we hold in this community and if we’re not a part of the solution, we’re a part of the problem. It was her call to action for herself, for me and for our family, to be a part of the solution.”
And he insists that she would have made that video even if he was nominated and no other people of color were.
“This is so deeply not about me,” said Smith. “This is about children that are gonna sit down and they’re going to watch this show, and they’re not going to see themselves represented,”
The actor also confirmed that he wouldn’t be attending this year’s Oscars, joking, “My wife’s not going. It would be awkward for me to show up with Charlize [Theron].”
He added, in all seriousness, “We’ve discussed it and we’re a part of this community, but at this current time, we’re uncomfortable to stand there and say that this is OK.”
In the second part of his interview with Roberts, Smith revealed that he talked with Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs earlier this week and indicated that he believes the makeup of the Academy is problematic from a diversity standpoint.
“At this point, the Academy is 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male,” he said. “It’s just difficult to get a diverse cultural sampling from that group. It’s a systematic bias that needs to be addressed across the whole industry.”
Smith also conceded that there are more serious issues in the world than the problems faced by Hollywood actors.
“We make movies. It’s not that serious, except that it plants seeds for dreams,” Smith told Roberts. “Historically, Hollywood has led. We have to get out in front. There’s a disharmony that is brewing in our country and in our industry that — I want no part to that. This is a marriage … but the marriage is in a space where divorce is not an option. We’re all in this together. We gotta figure it out and we gotta make it right.”
He added that he would tell those on social media voicing their concerns to keep discussing this problem.
“Part of the beauty of this country is the ability to disagree,” said Smith. “Part of what makes us great is historically the best answer tends to win. I say let’s keep debating. Let’s do our best to keep it in love and keep it in light. I want to leave an industry in better shape than I found it.”
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