When the Academy Award nominations were announced on Jan. 14, there were no blacks, Latinos or Asians among the 20 best-and-supporting actor and actress nominees — the second consecutive year that has occurred. And two films with largely black casts — “Straight Outta Compton” and “Creed” — were not among the eight movies nominated for best picture.
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith says she will skip the ceremony in protest, as will Spike Lee, which is significant because he recently received an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That means he would have been acknowledged during the Oscars broadcast on Feb. 28.
Lee and other Hollywood figures are saying the Oscars are merely a visible symptom of the film industry’s bigger problem: a lack of prominent roles for — and stories about — people of color. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs says she’s also disappointed in the lack of diversity among the nominees and that the Academy is making changes to remedy the situation.
Veteran movie producer Stephanie Allain is a member of the Motion Picture Academy and she is director of the Los Angeles Film Festival. Allain spoke with The Frame’s John Horn.
When you heard that, again, none of the nominees in the four acting races was a person of color, how did you react personally?
Well, the truth is, it wasn’t just the actors, it was even the movies that I wanted to see nominated. But yeah, it was disappointing, obviously it was disappointing. There’s a sense that you want to see yourself reflected, you want to see the movies that you loved celebrated.
So, since you’re an Oscar voter, what movie did you want to see nominated?
Well, here’s the thing, John — can we back it up? Because we’re talking about it like [the Oscars are] the end game — the be-all, end-all of the problem. And so we’re dissecting the process and how it goes. I have been a member — a proud member — of the Academy for the last five years. And like any institution that has a history and a lot of members, it's slow moving. Has there been change since I’ve been there? Absolutely. The work that Dawn Hudson and Cheryl [Boone Isaacs] have done. I’ve seen it. I’ve been in those rooms. I see people who deserve to get in, get in. People like Preston Holmes, who’s been working forever and was invited in ... It’s slow, though. So the bottom line is, the Academy will either change quickly enough to keep up with what’s happening or they’ll become obsolete. And I prefer to work within the organization to affect that change.
The Academy, in many ways, is reflecting what Hollywood in a larger sense is doing.
That’s the real problem. That’s what I’m saying: we’re talking about the Academy as if that’s the beginning of the problem. It’s not. That’s the end result of a problem that starts way back in developing artists. That’s why the work of organizations like Project Involve, from Film Independent, who curate, identify and train these artists across all of the disciplines is important work that needs to be supported and recognized. And those artists need opportunities to work over and over and over again to become masters. That’s just how it goes, you know. The problem starts way, way before the Oscars.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy, and Dawn Hudson, the executive director, are trying to diversify the Academy’s membership. Are the Academy’s hands tied by what’s happening outside of their purview?
Well, again, like any institution, you can create your bylaws and you can amend your bylaws. Like I said, the Academy is changing, but it’s slow. So I think that, with all the outrage, I’m sure Cheryl and Dawn will — and are — discussing ways to affect more change.
What can the average moviegoer do to affect change?
Well, the average moviegoer can support movies that are diverse, that are directed by people of color, that are directed by women. Because the bottom line is that you do vote with your money, you vote with your tickets ... And it’s not just for support. It’s because they’re interesting [stories], they’re different, they’re fresh. They have an alternative point of view. They can change your mind about things, they can help you grow... I’m just out here trying to make more movies and more TV about us and for us and for the world — and hopefully be part of the change.