A video actress Jada Pinkett Smith posted to Facebook quickly went viral last week after alluding to the 87th Oscar year of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences marks yet another celebration where all 20 nominees in the acting categories for the awards omit people of color.
Before posting the video, Pinkett Smith had first commented on the un-diverse Oscar acting nominations with a simple Facebook status update: “At the Oscars...people of color are always welcomed to give out awards...even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating altogether? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of deep disappointment, J.”
Two days later, she followed up with the much talked-about video that ignited a firestorm that continues to burn, no thanks to disgruntled Academy members outing themselves in a series of Hollywood Reporter opinion pieces and interviews with other mainstream publications.
Will Smith, left, and Jada Pinkett Smith arrive at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
“Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday, and I can’t help but ask the question: is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence, that we have amassed – that we no longer need to *ask* to be invited anywhere? I ask the question: 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 of *any* group? That maybe it’s time that we recognize that if we love and respect and acknowledge *ourselves* in the way in which we are asking others to do, that *that* is the place of true power. I’m simply asking a question,” she said.
“Here’s what I believe: the Academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose, to invite whomever they choose and now I think that it’s *our* responsibility, now, to make the change. Maybe it is time that we pull back *our* resources and we put them back into *our* communities, into *our* programs and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit that are just as good as the so-called ‘mainstream’ is.
“Here’s what I do: 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. So let’s let the Academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do *us*, differently. I’ve got nothing but love.”
Pinkett also gave her best regards to returning Oscars Host Chris Rock, the man many are now counting on to hilariously roast the Academy as only he can.
“Hey Chris, I will *not* be at the Academy Awards and I won’t be watching; but I can’t think of a better man to do the job at hand this year than you my friend. Good luck.”
Pinkett Smith further clarified her remarks in response to ongoing criticism by actress Janet Hubert, the first “Aunt Viv” on Will Smith’s 1990s series The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, in an Entertainment Tonight video exclusive a few days later.
“Here’s the deal: this whole Oscar controversy isn’t really about the Oscars. Really, in my plea to ask all communities and people of color to take back our power is so that we can use it in all sectors of our community,” Pinkett Smith explained (and again without calling for a boycott or labeling her absence as such; the same position as Spike Lee - the first celebrity to speak out and decline to attend). “And right now, specifically with African-American people, we have some very serious issues that I think we, as people, have to work together on. So I’m hoping that we can find ways to step together in this instead of finding ways to fight each other. I’ve got love for everybody.”
Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, quickly issued a statement shortly after Pinkett Smith’s video on January 18th stating that though she celebrated the achievements of this year’s nominees, she was “heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion”.
Pinkett Smith was cautiously optimistic and thanked the Academy’s President via Facebook for her swift action and considered response.
Three prominent national civil rights organisations think they have a solid blueprint to diversity and inclusion as well as an outline to hold the Academy accountable. In a joint announcement on January 26th, the leaders of the National Urban League, the National Action Network, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation indicated that they are requesting a meeting with Academy trustees of the Academy and other film industry leaders because to them, the Academy’s Trustees still seem believe their diversity problem will somehow resolve itself.
“A lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a complex issue without a simple solution. We are well-aware the problem neither begins nor ends with awards nominations,” they said in the release.
“But the overwhelmingly white, male, and older membership of the Academy dismally fails to reflect the vibrant creative filmmaking community. Award nominations translate into box-office success, and the potential for box-office success determines which projects are greenlighted.
“If the Academy cannot break this vicious circle, it risks its own irrelevancy.”
Follow ICTMN Correspondent Lisa J. Ellwood on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IconicImagery