The US civil rights activist Al Sharpton has backed calls for a boycott of the 2016 Oscars over the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ failure to nominate a single actor of colour for the second year running.
Sharpton, a White House adviser to president Barack Obama, said Hollywood had “locked out” people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter he announced his National Action Network would “launch a serious campaign for people to tune out of the Oscars”.
“To me, it is clear that they think they can get away with this as a pattern,” said Sharpton. “We must escalate our feelings and we must escalate our activism to now, in my view, affect the bottom line, because mere conversations and appeals don’t seem to reap any benefits or change for the community at large.
“You must remember that people of colour are 40% of movie ticket buyers,” he added. “We are not asking for favours here; we are supporting an industry that has now … locked us out. They have a policy they won’t correct. Even the president of the Academy says that something needs to be done.”
Sharpton, who labelled Hollywood “fraudulent” following last week’s announcement of an all-white list of acting nominees, said his boycott would aim to hit the Academy in the pocket by reducing viewing figures and therefore advertising revenues.
“I’m not saying that we want to select who is nominated or wins, but if you are telling me out of best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress – out of 40 slots, two years in a row, that there are no blacks and no browns who rose to a level of being considered, that’s hard to believe,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. Then I have the right to say, ‘You know what, you can do what you want, but you won’t do it with my support.’ Let’s see if advertisers and others think that you are as attractive to pay those high fees if they know that sizeable portions of the population will not be watching your show the night it airs … [Advertisers] don’t want to be identified with institutional patterns of discrimination.”
Sharpton’s comments came after Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee and Michael Moore all said they would not be attending the 2016 ceremony in protest at the Oscars’ diversity deficit. Pinkett Smith, who first raised the prospect of a boycott over the weekend, tweeted on Tuesday that she would “look forward to the future”, after Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs released a statement saying she was “heartbroken and frustrated” by the all-white nominations and vowing to improve diversity among the Academy’s membership. It was not clear if Pinkett Smith and her husband Will Smith would attend next month’s ceremony in the wake of Isaacs’ words.
Lupita Nyong’o, who won a best supporting actress Oscar in 2014 for her turn in the drama Twelve Years a Slave, took to Instagram on Wednesday morning to announce her support for improving diversity.
“I am disappointed by the lack of inclusion in this year’s Academy Awards nominations,” she wrote. “It has me thinking about unconscious prejudice and what merits prestige in our culture. The Awards should not dictate the terms of art in our modern society, but rather be a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has to offer today.”
Another Oscar-winner, the actor Whoopi Goldberg, said on her television show The View that Hollywood’s problems went way beyond this year’s all-white list of acting nominees.
“It’s not that the people doing the nominating are too white,” said Goldberg. “The problem is, people who can help to make movies that have blacks and Latinos and women and all that, that money doesn’t come to you because the idea is that there’s no place for black movies. There has never been, in the history of movies, a plethora of black movies made because people believe we don’t want to see movies with black people in them.”
Goldberg added: “Boycotting doesn’t work, and it’s also a slap in the face to [Oscars 2016 host] Chris Rock. I find that also wrong. So I’m not going to boycott, but I’m going to continue to bitch, as I have, all year round, because I’m tired of seeing movies where no one is represented except a bit of the population.”
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