First Black Oscar-Winning Director: Rather Than Boycotting Ceremony, Support Push for Change

roger ross williams  - H 2016
Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Amazon Studios

This piece by Roger Ross Williams, a member of the Academy's documentary branch who won the best documentary short Oscar for 2010's Music for Prudence and the Sundance Film Festival's award for best director of a documentary for 2016's Life, Animated, is part of an ongoing series of guest columns by Academy members about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the Academy's response to it.

Don’t boycott the Oscars. Staying away from something that needs to change is no way to change it. Instead, let’s help them lead the way in promoting diversity in Hollywood.

This week, as I premiered my latest film, Life, Animated, at Sundance, I have been asked repeatedly about the Academy’s diversity problem. This is why, as the first African-American to win an Academy Award for directing, I felt I should weigh in on the debate that is presently underway. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it has been troubling for me to work within an institution that does not seem to recognize that I am a statistic. I simply shouldn’t have been the first. I received my Oscar 81 years after the Academy first began bestowing the award. 

The Academy should reflect the diversity of our society as a whole, and until now that has not been the case. This is why I applaud Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the Board of Governors for the changes they are making. I do agree that it could and should happen faster, but I also think of it as my job, as a member, to help push those boundaries.  

Why should someone be allowed to remain a voting member of the Academy if they are no longer active in the industry? This is one of the main problems as I see it. There are simply too many Academy members who were voted in during a less inclusive era and still remain a large voting bloc even though they haven’t worked in the field for decades. We need to promote a young and diverse membership that reflects the true face of America. If Hollywood refuses to keep up with the ever-widening variance of ethnic presence in the population, then we should not wait around until they choose to do so. 

The Academy has done so many wonderful things in the interest of promoting film as the preeminent reflection of our society, and now this is another chance for the Academy to lead the way in promoting diversity in Hollywood. This is why I wholeheartedly support the Academy’s new rule changes.