When this year’s Oscar nominations were announced on Thursday, “Carol” not being among the Best Picture pack wasn’t the only glaring omission. There was also a decided lack of non-white names. No Michael B. Jordan or director Ryan Coogler for “Creed,” no Samuel L. Jackson for “The Hateful Eight,” none of the trans stars of “Tangerine.” Even the screenwriters for the N.W.A. saga “Straight Outta Compton” were white.
It’s the whitest Oscars since, well, last year, when the Academy couldn’t even get behind “Selma” star David Oyelowo and director/cowriter Ava DuVernay. Before that it hadn’t been so white since 1998. And even on the on years it’s never been great: As the Huffington Post broke it down, on average two or three non-white performers and filmmakers tend to be nominated, and sometime it’s only one.
The backlash has been swift and mighty. Even this year’s Oscars host Chris Rock — in an ad for the show, no less — called them the “White BET Awards.” Sunday Jada Pinkett Smith — who to be honest should have been nominated for her movie-stealing turn in “Magic Mike XXL” — announced she’d be boycotting the ceremony altogether.
Now Spike Lee has joined the fray. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the filmmaker — whose “Chi-Raq” was a glorious and messy return to form (with no nominations) — sent out a lengthy Instagram message attached to a photo of a young MLK. Lee thanked the Academy for an honorary award he received in November, but said he too would be skipping out in protest of a batch of nominations he called “lilly white.”
#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)
“How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? [all of this is sic],” he wrote. “40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!!”
He continued: “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.”
Lee himself has often been snubbed. “Do the Right Thing” netted him a nom for his screenplay, but not one for Picture. Moreover, just like “Creed” — whose only nomination was for Sylvester Stallone — its only acting nod went to a white guy, Danny Aiello. “Malcolm X” also failed to go up for Picture, despite one for Denzel Washington’s lead turn.
Of course, it’s not as though the Academy voters get together in some evil, Bond villain-y lair and talk about how they’re going to snub non-white people. It’s simply what happens when you have a largely white, largely male, largely old voting body — 94 percent white, 76 percent men with an average age of 63, to be exact. The Oscars have always been bland and safe, but they’re also inevitably out-of-touch when it comes to diversity.
The upside? Chris Rock will have ample ammunition this year when he takes the stage — as one of the only people of color there at all.