Following weeks of outrage over the fact that, for the second year in a row, no people of colour were nominated in any of the major categories at the Oscars, civil rights activists are planning to hit the Academy where it hurts: with its advertisers.
The National Action Network (NAN), a US civil rights organisation founded by the Reverend Al Sharpton, announced on Thursday that it would hold simultaneous protests of the Academy Awards on Sunday, including a 2pm rally near the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, where the event takes place.
Protests are also scheduled to take place in Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, New York, Atlanta, and Washington DC, and the group are calling for a nationwide “tune-out” of the televised ceremony.
The group say they want to put pressure on advertisers – especially the retailer Kohl’s, the award show’s new sponsor this year – to suspend their relationships with the Academy until it takes concrete steps to address its diversity issues. Representatives of Kohl’s did not respond to a request for comment.
When the nominees were announced, several performances that had been hailed as Oscar-worthy were notably missing, including those by Will Smith in Concussion and Michael B Jordan in Creed and in Straight Outta Compton.
Related: #OscarsSoWhite: a 10-point plan for change by the hashtag’s creator
The only nomination that Straight Outta Compton received was for its white writers. Jordan’s white Creed co-star, Sylvester Stallone, was nominated. Several high-profile African American actors and directors, including Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett-Smith, said they would not attend the ceremony.
In response, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs called an emergency meeting of the board and pushed through a series of changes, including three new board seats, aimed at making the Oscars more diverse by the year 2020.
“The Academy is going to lead, and not wait for the industry to catch up,” Isaacs said in a statement announcing the changes. Representatives of the Academy Awards did not respond to a request from the Guardian for comment for this story.
Sharpton told the Guardian that the three-year timetable for reform was “too far in the future” and he wanted to see “definitive goals, starting immediately”.
Sharpton and NAN had planned a series of protests when the nominations list for the 2015 Oscars – which also did not include anyone of colour in any major category, leading to a social media backlash which coalesced under the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite – was released. But they were dissuaded by the Academy, which promised that serious reforms would be undertaken, Sharpton said.
When the list of 2106 nominees was released in January, black Hollywood saw that it had once again been snubbed. “We were not shocked,” said Reverend K W Tuloss, the west regional director of NAN. “Promises were made to us, [but] we didn’t see anything put into action. So we can’t say we were shocked.”
But, Tuloss said, “for this to be the second year in a row with no person of colour nominated for an Academy Award is a slap in the face to the whole Hollywood community.”
“This is a reflection of [all of] Hollywood, not just the Academy,” he added. “The higher you get, the more white it becomes.” He said he was pleased by Isaacs’ 2020 initiative, but that more opportunities and recognition for black people in Hollywood could not wait that long.
Sharpton also said it was a problem that went much deeper than awards. He pointed to a recent study by the University of Southern California, Annenberg, which looked at 407 films and TV shows released in the past year, and found that 87% of directors were white and just two out of all 407 were women of colour. Stacy Smith, one of the study’s authors, told NPR that the data showed “an inclusion crisis” in Hollywood both in race and in gender.
That study, Sharpton said, pointed to “a whole culture of exclusion” among senior Hollywood executives, leading to a dearth of greenlighted movies that speak to the experiences of black people. “When I say I’m not watching [the Oscars] on Sunday night, it’s for my own self-respect,” Sharpton said. “Why should I be participating in something that does not allow me to participate in it?”
Related: What #OscarsSoWhite got right – and wrong
Najee Ali, a Los Angeles-based activist and social justice campaigner, said that the black community was angry because the awards shows felt like “Hollywood is essentially spitting in our face.”
“The fact that they have Chris Rock, an African American entertainer, hosting the Oscars – and a handful of African American presenters – they’re sending the message out that Chris Rock is good enough to make us laugh, but African American entertainers aren’t worthy enough to receive an Oscar nomination,” Ali said.
“So essentially, you have the black elite giving out Oscars that night to the white elite,” he said.
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