When the Oscars released its 2016 nominees list last week, it sparked a wave of strong opinions and backlash for its lack of diversity. Already known for overlooking entertainers of color, the prestigious awards show has caught flack once again for not having one black nominee included in this year show yet bringing on Chris Rock to host the ceremony.  For the second year in a row, social media responded with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, poking fun and critiquing the historically whitewashed ceremony.

This exclusion is nothing new. The awards show has a track record for not acknowledging actors of color, even in films written, produced, or starring a majority black cast. For example, Creed written and directed by Ryan Coogler and starring  Michael B. Jordan yet the only nominee was a white man (Sylvester Stallone, Best performance by an actor in a supporting role). Or Straight Outta Compton, despite a black cast of new talent and being directed by the F. Gary Gray, the film’s only nomination is for its screenplay, unsurprisingly by white writers.

Each year hundreds of the industry’s elite gather to hear the words “the Academy award goes to…” yet the names that follow rarely reflect the diverse body of talent in the crowd. Last year, the excitement surrounding Selma still showed little progress. The film earned two nominations, for Best Picture and song, and won the latter. In it’s 88 year history there have been no black directors to win an Oscar and only four black actors to take home the coveted Best Actor/Actress award: Jamie Foxx, Sidney Portier, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington. Just four latino actors have taken home Best Supporting Actor, and to date no Asian actor has won in either category. And it doesn’t come as much of a surprise as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2012, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is predominantly white (94% of membership as of 2012) and male (77% of membership as of 2012). 

Not only has the controversy sparked dialogue on social media, many celebrities are now weighing-in. Jada Pinkett Smith took to her Twitter and Facebook to pose the question of whether black actors should boycott the awards, following up with a video calling on actors of colors to “stand in [their power].”

Spike Lee followed suit announcing on Instagram that he would not be attending the awards show.

#OscarsSoWhite… Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. Dr. King Said “There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The “Real” Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With “The Green Light” Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, “I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS”. People, The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont’d)

A photo posted by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

Pinkett’s stance has garnered support from the likes of Lee and even Snoop Dogg.Yet, not everyone sees boycotting as an effective response. Former NFL player and filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry and NBC writer Kirk Moore,  took to their timelines to express different perspectives.

It seems the questions boils down to what we’re seeking to achieve: recognition from industry peers or inclusion in white spaces? If it’s the latter, we may be barking up a tree that will lead us nowhere. Whether it’s the Oscars, Grammys or any other mainstream award show, we’ve seen time and time again that our artwork is underrepresented and appreciated, and valuing our own platforms is crucial.
We’ve never been short of talented filmmakers, thespians, or musicians, so should we no longer look to spaces that have historically shunned us as great sources to validate our achievements? If anything, hopefully the controversy of the Oscars will make us more committed to support fresh talent and spaces that are intended to celebrate our best such as the African Black Film Festival or Ava DuVernay’s African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) – whether they ever get it right or not.

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