In a strip mall parking lot just yards from the Dolby theatre where the Oscars ceremony was due to start a few hours later, civil rights leader Al Sharpton and his organisation, the National Action Network (NAN), held a rally denouncing the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards.
Protesters carried placards bearing the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, and others with the slogan, “Black lives matter.” When Sharpton took the stage, from a staircase balcony overlooking the parking lot, he led the crowd in a chant that has been a familar part of racial justice rallies across America in the last two years: “No justice – no peace.”
He said that in 2015, following the release of last year’s nominee list – in which, as with this year, no people of colour were nominated for awards in major categories – the Academy had promised him and his organisation that they would change.
But, he said, no such change had occurred.
During his speech, Sharpton held aloft an Oscar statue made of white, rather than the usual gold material, implying that this would be a more accurate coloration. “You are out of time,” he told the Academy. “We are not going to allow the Oscars to continue. This will be the last night of an all-white Oscars.”
After Sharpton spoke, he led protesters in a march, chanting, “Greenlight diversity” and “Diversify the Academy.” Hemmed in by police, who had closed most of the roads surrounding the Dolby theatre, the protesters instead marched in a circle around the parking lot.
“In this lot, where you see people have come out to walk in a unity circle, this is the colour of America,” Sharpton told reporters after the rally. “What they will see tonight is blacks on stage giving awards to whites that whites decided.”
“There’s nothing wrong with whites getting awards, but they should not be the only ones making decisions,” he continued. “We love Leonardo DiCaprio … but we also love Michael B Jordan. So why isn’t he in consideration?”
Colleen Williams, a supporter from Los Angeles, said that she was there “supporting for justice”. She called for more African Americans to be nominated for Academy awards. “[It’s] just fairness. We support the Oscars, but we just want fairness.”
Yolanda Christian, another supporter, said that she wanted “to make sure that everyone gets equal rights”.
The National Action Network planned a nationwide boycott of the televised ceremony night, calling it the “white Oscars tune-out”.
The idea, Sharpton told the Guardian in an interview on Thursday, was to put pressure on advertisers, especially event sponsor Kohl’s, to suspend ties with the organisation until it makes concrete changes to its diversity policies.
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