Black Opinions

Oscar Diversity Struggle Heats Up As Civil Rights Leaders Request Meeting with Academy Leaders

By Hazel Trice Edney

Three leading civil rights organizations are requesting a meeting with the trustees of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other film industry leaders in the wake of a lily White slate of actor nominees for the upcoming Oscars.

The National Urban League, the National Action Network and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation recently released a statement expressing their intent to get directly involved in order to speed up the process for justice and equality in the movie industry, which draws more than a billion dollars from the Black community.

The statement, released Jan. 26, says the groups will request a meeting with the Academy’s board members and other industry leaders “where we will present a clear and specific blueprint for moving forward, and outline our plan to hold the Academy accountable … It seems that the Academy’s board of trustees believes diversity is a problem that will resolve itself.  The nominations show otherwise.  We will be requesting a meeting with the Academy’s board members and other industry leaders.”

The statement was released by the three organizational presidents, Marc Morial of NUL, Al Sharpton of NAN and Melanie Campbell of the NCBCP. It points to the fact that the issue goes beyond entertainment awards, but also involves economic parity.

“African-Americans attend the movies on average more often than whites, spending more than $1.1 billion annually on movie tickets,” they quote a report credited to the Los Angeles Times.
In an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire, this week, Morial says he is aware of statements from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who said that the Academy’s 51-member board announced on Friday (Jan. 22) that it will double the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020, among other concessions.

“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” Isaacs said in a statement. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing the membership composition.”

But, those concessions are not enough, Morial says. “The changes are not enough and they’re not fast enough and also there’s no mechanism built in to ensure that the Academy will follow through on their commitments.” 
He pointed to the fact that promises were previously made with no results.
“They’ve made commitments in the past. There have been promises in the past by Hollywood and there’s simply been no follow through,” Morial said. “I don’t know if they’re serious.”

Morial says the leaders are looking to establish a mechanism that will assure results this time.
“They need a monitor, they need accountability, they need a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure that if they make commitments, they’re going to come through.”

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Stating that the 2020 goal is much too long, he said, “I think the changes to the Oscars nominating process needs to take place more quickly.”
The statement from the three organization says the issue will not be easy to resolve.

“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.  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,” the statement said.

The statement by the three organizations adds fuel to an already raging controversy. The NAACP also release a statement blasting the Academy last week. Also in response to the Oscars lack of diversity, key Black entertainers have announced they are boycotting the event. They include filmmaker Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of actor Will Smith, who also announced his boycott. They are calling on African-Americans across the country to also boycott the awards, which will be hosted by comedian Chris Rock Feb. 28.

Morial stressed that the controversy means much more than just racial equality in the entertainment field.
“It goes to the fabric of Hollywood. And it’s through movies and television that people see their world, their community and themselves,” he said. “It’s where role models are mined.”

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