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Academy president addresses lack of diversity at Oscars

BEVERLY HILLS — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will take “dramatic steps to alter” its membership following criticism of all 20 acting nominations going to white performers for the second consecutive year, academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said Jan. 18.

In a statement released by the academy, Boone Isaacs said she was “both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.”

“This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes,” Boone Isaacs said.

“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.”

The academy has implemented changes to diversify its membership in the last four years, “but the change is not coming as fast as we would like,” Boone Isaacs said.

“We need to do more, and better and more quickly,” Boone Isaacs said.

The move to change the composition of the academy’s membership is not unprecedented, Boone Isaacs said.

“In the ’60s and ’70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant,” Boone Isaacs said.

“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.”

Boone Isaacs’ statement came hours after writer/director Spike Lee, who received an honorary Oscar in November, and actress Jada Pinkett Smith, whose husband was left off this year’s Oscar nominations list, announced they would boycott next month’s Oscars show due to the lack of diversity among the nominated performers.

Timing their comments to coincide with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Lee and Smith both took to social media to announce their plans to boycott the Feb. 28 ceremony.

“We cannot support it and mean no disrespect to my friends, host Chris Rock and producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs and the academy,” Lee wrote on his Instagram page.

“But how is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the actor category are white? and let’s not even get into the other branches. Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all. We can’t act?!”

In his post, Lee quoted King as saying, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it’s right.”

“As I see it, the Academy Awards is not where the `real’ battle is,” Lee wrote. “It’s in the executive office of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks. This is where the gate-keepers decide what gets made and what gets jettisoned to ‘turnaround’ or scrap heap.”

Smith posted a video on Facebook announcing her plans to avoid the Oscar telecast and ceremony. Smith’s husband, Will Smith, was not nominated for an Oscar this year despite being critically acclaimed for his role in “Concussion.” Will Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe for best drama actor, but lost to Leonardo DiCaprio.

“Begging for acknowledgement or even asking diminishes dignity and diminishes power and we are a dignified people and we are powerful, let’s not forget it,” she said. “So let’s let the Academy do them with all the grace and love and let’s do us differently.”

Community activists also were calling for people to boycott the Oscars, both in person and watching the television broadcast at home.

“The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made many promises last year to promote diversity in its film awards. It kept none of them,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. “The proof is that despite a number of name, qualified black performers in major films, not one was nominated for an Academy Award.”

Most notably absent from the Oscar nominations was “Straight Outta Compton,” the story about the rise of the rap group NWA. Some pundits projected the film as a possible best picture nominee. The film earned only a screenwriting nod for Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff — both of whom are white.

Hutchinson said he is calling for a nationwide “TV Tune Out” of the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 28.

“This will send the message that diversity in the film industry must be more than a hollow promise,” he said.

The last black performer to win an Oscar was in 2014, when Lupita Nyong’o was named best supporting actress for “12 Years a Slave,” which was also named best picture.

Chris Rock is supposed to host this year’s Oscar telecast for the second time, but pressure was being on Rock this week to bow out as host.

Others were encouraging Rock to stay on as host and address the lack of black nominees during his opening monologue or somewhere else during the show.

With some small exceptions, this year’s nominations for acting Oscars are largely the same as those for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which are usually a strong indicator of winners on Oscar night.

SAG, however, nominated black actor Idris Elba for his supporting role in “Beasts of No Nation,” which was also nominated for outstanding ensemble cast. SAG also gave an ensemble nomination to “Straight Outta Compton.”

The Golden Globe Award acting nominations this year were also mostly white, with Elba and Will Smith the only black nominees.

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