By Kate Sims
On the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., two prominent African-American media figures, Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, announced separately that they were going to boycott the Oscars for the lack of diversity in Academy nominations. Even the Academy’s president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has expressed her frustration in the selections this year, with films like Straight Outta Compton, Creed, and Star Wars: the Force Awakens providing potential candidates but nominating very few.
Since then, there has been a divide in the media about whether or not it is worth it to boycott the Oscars solely for diversity among nominations. In an interview with Variety, George Clooney agreed with the idea that the Oscars should be held responsible for the exclusion of people of color in nominations, saying that, “African-Americans have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough,” and that “for Hispanics, it’s even worse.” This is all true. For instance, in the last 20 years, only Benicio Del Toro, a Puerto Rican actor, won an Oscar for best supporting actor in 2000.
To further push the issue, Jada Pinkett Smith released a video about her reasons to boycott, where she asks, “have we now come to a new time and place where we recognize that we can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgement, or respect from any groups of people?” I share a similar feeling. There is absolutely no need for people of color, or people of minority-standing, to have to asked to be “invited” to a place they belong.
But what I can’t agree with is the idea of a separate awards ceremony, mainstream or not. Yes, high-caliber actors need recognition, no matter what their ethnic background is, but to announce the idea of separation on MLK’ s birthday is troubling. Instead, it undoes all of the work of MLK and the men and women that followed him for social change.
In our time of mass media, protesting and boycotting can be as simple as a hashtag or as big as when over 1,000 people marched the streets of St. Louis in October of 2014. Last year, we had the very unnecessary joke of #BoycottStarWars made by an internet troll that ignited so many racist disputes, showcasing how prevalent the issue still is. So is there any value to this current boycott of the Oscars?
The boycott will be unsuccessful. Wait, don’t freak out just yet. Despite the fact that I agree with the cause, we have to look at the reality. There is a strong purpose for the boycott, but no goal to achieve by participating in it. How is not watching this year’s Oscars going to change that which is already been voted upon, or hold merit in a year when the Academy begins the process all over again? A boycott is to cause change as soon as possible. It is really no more than a hissy fit, a sound hissy fit, but still just that.
The boycott has started a chain of debates, revealing a factor that can be changed, or boycotted. The Revenant, nominated for 12 Oscars and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, grossed $38.9 million on its opening weekend. Earlier that year, Focus, a film starring Will Smith, only grossed $19.1 million its opening weekend. Both have prominent actors, so what’s the catch?. “There aren’t enough movies with diversity getting financed and made. If you’re going to boycott, don’t go see the movies that don’t have your representation. That’s the boycott you want,” Whoopi Goldberg said on the show she co-hosts, The View. It’s not an impossible concept. Looking back into the Emmy’s of last year, there was plenty of quality television (AMC’s Mad Men, ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, and FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show to name a few) with a diverse nomination range of fantastic actors like Anthony Anderson and Viola Davis. Most television series cost under five million dollars an episode. Rarely will a show reach over that amount, unless you’re Game of Thrones. Yet, we still get quality entertainment, great stories with relatable characters shown to us with careful production. So why can’t the feature film industry reflect the same ability to have actors of all walks, playing characters from numerous backgrounds?
It goes a little further than that. Every film starts with a script and a team that puts it together. I can’t help but recall J.J. Abrams’s quote about the casting for Star Wars: the Force Awakens: “We are casting a show, and we have an opportunity to do anything we want, so why not cast actors of color?” A good “boycott” for this situation could be a future where the consumer can be a bit more picky with their spending; and future writers, filmmakers, and actors can push forward in creating a quality show with quality actors, no matter what their demographics are.