Ever since this year’s Oscar nominations were announced, many have been upset. Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee have both announced they’ll be sitting this year’s ceremony out, and many have called on Oscar host Chris Rock to resign in protest.
Monday night, things got even more contentious when Selma star David Oyelowo broke away from his prepared remarks honoring Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to blast the Oscars for once again overlooking actors of color.
“The Academy has a problem,” Oyelowo said. “It’s a problem that needs to be solved.”
Interestingly, Oyelowo’s criticisms came as he was presenting Isaacs with an honor named after Rosa Parks at this year’s King Legacy Awards. During his speech, Oyelowo said he met with Isaacs last year after he was snubbed by the Academy for his powerful portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“A year ago, I did a film called Selma, and after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then,” he said. “We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.”
While Oyelowo argued “this institution doesn’t reflect its president…I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me,” he acknowledged the importance of the Oscars.
The reason why the Oscars are so important is because it is the zenith, it is the epitome, it is the height of celebration of artistic endeavor within the filmmaking community. We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence. I would like to walk away and say it doesn’t matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in.
Amid the controversy, Isaacs, the Academy’s first Black president, released a statement, admitting they “need to do more.”
I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees. While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.
As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly.
This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ’60s and ’70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognize the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.
During her tenure as president, Isaacs has attempted to make the Academy’s membership more diverse by offering membership to writers, actors, and filmmakers of color, but it’s clear there’s still much more work to do.