6:00am PT by Chris Gardner
#OscarsSoWhite Creator April Reign to Attend Academy Awards: "I Feel Immense Pride"
The sun had not yet come up on the West Coast on Jan. 22 when Spike Lee heard the title of his film BlacKkKlansman spoken six times in major categories at the announcement of the 2019 Academy Award nominees. The nods included best picture and best director, his first in the category. Lee would later say he was convinced that the recognition for the film and for himself, specifically, would not have happened without #OscarsSoWhite. The tweet-turned-movement launched by April Reign with a single tweet in 2015 (as a response to that year’s nominees across all acting categories, which did not include any nonwhite actors) has transformed the Academy, diversified its ranks and impacted who gets to select nominees and vote for winners for Hollywood’s biggest night.
When that night unfolds this Sunday inside the Dolby Theatre, Reign will be in the room where it happens. The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that Reign has accepted an invitation from the Academy to attend her first Oscars ceremony.
“After creating the hashtag and working for almost five years to turn it into a movement that not only changed the Academy but made its way into so many other industries, I feel immense pride and a sense of coming full circle, back to the where it all began,” says Reign, whose mission it is to support marginalized communities across many industries, not just Hollywood. Prior to launching a career as an activist and activator, the University of Texas School of Law grad worked as a lawyer for two decades. She now travels as a speaker and works as a consultant on diversity, inclusion and representation issues while keeping up with her 144,000 Twitter followers. “The work continues, but I am thrilled to be able to celebrate the incremental progress that has been made, even if only for a night,” she adds.
There has been progress. Following the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, the Academy worked to diversify its membership ranks by issuing invitations to more women, people of color and international filmmakers. The organization invited 322 new members in 2015, 683 in 2016, 774 in 2017 and 928 in 2018. According to a THR report from last summer, if all invitations were accepted, the overall percentage of women in the Academy would be 31 percent and people of color would be 16 percent. The nominees list this year is more diverse than it was in 2015, and ever, actually, according to THR's awards expert Scott Feinberg.
“I’m going to give myself permission to think that the work that I and many who believe in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion have done is having an impact,” Reign tells THR. “Seeing Spike nominated is a very public validation of that work. Nevertheless, the daily work of [#OscarsSoWhite] is for all marginalized people, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, age, or disability, to have opportunities they didn’t before.”
Seeing Lee nominated also delivers another sweet full-circle moment for Reign, who led a student committee that brought the filmmaker to her Texas campus 30 years ago ahead of the debut of his 1989 film Do the Right Thing. In addition to seeing Lee represent his multiple nominations this weekend, Reign is also excited to be able to show support for Black Panther, another film she has championed since its release last year. The Ryan Coogler-directed superhero smash is up for seven awards, including best picture.
“Black Panther was such a game-changing film in so many ways. Not only did it shift the culture, it put to rest tropes on which Hollywood has relied for far too long,” she says, listing long-repeated myths like films that reflect the black experience don’t do well overseas, only a few black leads who can open a film, and superhero movies aren't Oscar-worthy. “I'm thrilled that Black Panther, with its amazing production value and affirming message, has been nominated in several categories and I'm excited to be in the room to watch the results.”
She won’t be alone. While her #OscarsSoWhite movement brought about the dawn of a new day for the Academy and for Lee, Reign knew exactly who to go to with the plus-one she received for the special night.
“I’m bringing my son,” she says, noting that he is 19. “Because the whole point of #OscarsSoWhite is that children of any age should be able to see themselves reflected on screen.”