Idris Elba, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee

ARTS & CULTURE

Is Hollywood finally going to do something about its diversity problem? 

A series of Oscar boycotts have forced the head of the Academy to call for change 

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By Marisa Bate on

As Spike Lee has pointed out in a statement announcing his decision to boycott the Oscars for a second year in a row, all 20 nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress are white. Jada Pinkett Smith has also made the decision to boycott the ceremony. In a Facebook message, she said, “Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power, and we are a dignified people, and we are powerful. And let’s not forget it.” 

In response to the second consecutive year of all-white nominees in the best acting categories, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, issued a statement yesterday. She said of this year’s nominees, “I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes.” 

Isaacs also said that “change is not coming fast enough” and that she will ensure more direct action: “The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the make-up of our membership. In the coming days and weeks, we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.” She also noted that the Academy is currently developing a five-year plan called A2020, with the goal of improving diversity within the Academy and the industry. She continued, “We recognise the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.” 

'For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of colour, actresses of colour, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable'

Speaking at the King Legacy Awards last night, actor David Oyelowo, who was notoriously overlooked last year for his role as Martin Luther King in Selma, said, “For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of colour, actresses of colour, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.” He spoke movingly about how the awards are the "zenith, it is the epitome, it is the height of celebration of artistic endeavour within the filmmaking community” and, for that reason, the issue can’t be ignored. “I would like to walk away and say it doesn’t matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career and the culture of the world we live in,” he said. 

In the UK, actor Idris Elba has been speaking to MPs about the lack of diversity in British TV, saying there is a large gap between the real work and “the TV world”. Speaking to over 100 MPs this week, Elba spoke about the black ceiling and the need to move to the US for work and the role of Stringer Bell in The Wire. Elba made the argument that the entertainment industry is the foundation of the British economy and ignoring British talent can have disastrous consequences: “When you don’t reflect the real world, too much talent gets trashed. Thrown on the scrapheap. Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t. And talent can’t reach opportunity.” 

He also thanked Prince Charles for the money he received from the Prince’s Trust, which subsidised his first audition for the National Musical Youth Theatre. For Elba, the issue of diversity is more of a problem in the UK: “People who started with me would have their own series by now, and I’m still fighting to get the second lead or whatever. I think I’m at a certain level and have a good range, so why isn’t my inbox of English scripts busting at the seams in the same way as my American one is? There’s something amiss there.”

The Hollywood Reporter

@marisajbate

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Idris Elba, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee
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