US president Barack Obama has spoken for the first time on Oscars diversity, suggesting that the issue comes down to basic fairness and challenging Hollywood to ask if people of all races are “getting a fair shot”.
Describing the furore over all-white lists of nominees for this year’s ceremony as “just an expression of this broader issue” Obama said the American film industry could benefit creatively by championing the creativity of those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
“I think that California is an example of the incredible diversity of this country. That’s a strength,” he told reporters at the White House. “I think that when everyone’s story is told … that makes for better art.”
Added Obama: “It makes for better entertainment; it makes everybody feel part of one American family, so I think as a whole the industry should do what every other industry should do which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody. And I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton also weighed in on the issue on Wednesday, backing proposed changes to membership rules by Oscars body the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to combat Hollywood homogeny.
“I think it is overdue, but the Academy announced that they are going to be making some changes, as they should,” she told aol.com on the campaign trail in Iowa. “Just think of the great films that not only display the diversity of America, but the diversity of the human experience. The Academy has to catch up with our reality.”
The Academy has faced opposition to its reforms, which were introduced after this year’s Oscars nominees list failed to feature a single actor from black or minority ethnic backgrounds for the second year running, from some longstanding members.
“I recently received your letter regarding your efforts to ‘diversify’ our membership and feel a need to respond as I believe you are making some serious errors in judgment,” wrote visual effects branch member John Van Vliet in a letter to the Academy published by the Hollywood Reporter. “Most notably the decision to remove older members from the voting roster for inactivity within certain time slots. Or as we like to say down in the trenches, haven’t had a job in a little while.
“The Academy also states that it has a ‘goal to double number of diverse members by 2020’, bringing in new members who are women and of ethnicity. That’s great, but historically admittance to the Academy has always been based primarily on merit and the rules have been pretty strict about only recognising those who practice excellence. Admitting people with a preference for gender or ethnicity also implies the Academy believes they will also be voting with a gender or racial consideration, which is not what we stand for.”
The Republican presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump, has previously called the debate over diversity “sad”. Speaking on Fox News last week he questioned why no-one spoke out against black-only ceremonies such as the BET Awards.
“I think it’s really sad,” said the real estate tycoon. “I think it’s a tough situation. I saw somebody on your show today say, ‘well, what do we do with BET?’ Whites don’t get any nominations, and I thought it was an amazing interview. I’d never even thought of it from that standpoint.”
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