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Oscar nominees discuss diversity in Hollywood amid the #OscarsSoWhite backlash

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its 2016 Oscar nominees, only white actors and actresses were among the chosen few in the top four categories -- for the second year in a row -- resulting in the resurgence of the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and a bevy of concerns about diversity in Hollywood. Here, we keep a running list of the latest in the conversation, and the Academy's recent response.

The Oscars don't excite Angela Bassett anymore

In an interview with the Breakfast Club on New York's Power 105 radio station, Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett vocalized her thoughts on the diversity conversation in Hollywood. 

Plainly put, she's not too excited about the Academy Awards ceremony anymore.

"When I see more inclusion, that's when I can get more excited, when I see the work of what life looks like," she said.

Bassett was nominated in 1994 for her turn as Tina Turner in "What's Love Got to do With It?" alongside her costar Laurence Fishburne, who played Ike Turner. She lost to Holly Hunter in "The Piano."

Check out the interview above.

Video game lampoons lack of Oscars diversity: 'Find the black nominee'

Dodge Lady Gaga. Collect Golden Globes. Find the black Oscar nominee.

Winning an Academy Award, it proves, can be nearly an impossible task, at least according to the lighthearted Web game "Leo's Red Carpet Rampage." The game puts players in control of a mini, vintage-style Leonardo DiCaprio in a quest for an Oscar. 

#OscarsSoWhite? Maybe not in 2017. Here's an early look at promising contenders from upcoming films

The Birth of a Nation," with writer-director-star Nate Parker as Nat Turner, center, evoked an Oscar front-runner response during January’s Sundance Film Festival. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
The Birth of a Nation," with writer-director-star Nate Parker as Nat Turner, center, evoked an Oscar front-runner response during January’s Sundance Film Festival. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

A quick survey of the 2016 film landscape indicates that there will be a number of films featuring people of color for the academy to consider next time around.

Academy Award nominee the Weeknd: 'I’m glad this has sparked a conversation'

 (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Abel Tesfaye, known as the Weeknd, is one of the few nominees of color for the 2016 Academy Awards. He received a nomination for “Earned It,” which appeared on the soundtrack for “Fifty Shades of Grey.” 

In an exclusive interview with the L.A. Times, The Weeknd addressed the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. 

You know, music is so diverse. My fans couldn’t even put a face or color or anything to my music. The same with film, it’s such a diverse thing. Every movie you see now is inspired by diversity. So it’s unfortunate.... but I think it’s much deeper than the academy or deeper than the film or music industry. It’s an issue that the nation has been dealing with, and I’m glad this has sparked a conversation ... it needed to happen. And good for the academy for trying to make the new changes.

The Weeknd, Oscar nominee

Steven Spielberg's weighs in on #OscarsSoWhite

Director Steven Speilberg (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Director Steven Speilberg (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Famed director and three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg went on the record with The Hollywood Reporter to lend his voice to the #OscarsSoWhite conversation. During an episode of the magazine's "Awards Chatter" podcast, he said he was surprised at the snub of "Straight Outta Compton" for best picture and "Beasts of No Nation's" Idris Elba for best supporting actor.

Check out some of his other thoughts below:

On allegations that the academy is racist

"You have to look back a couple of years where Lupita [Nyong'o] was recognized for '12 Years a Slave' [and] '12 Years a Slave' won best picture, you know? I don't believe that there is inherent or dormant racism because of the amount of white academy members. 

On the academy stripping older members of their voting rights:

"I'm not 100% sure that taking votes away from academy members who have paid their dues and maybe are retired now and have done great service — maybe they've not won a nomination, which would have given them immunity to the new rules, but they have served proudly and this is their industry too — to strip their votes? I'm not 100 percent behind that."

On the academy's other diversity commitments:

"I do think that what the academy is doing, in a proactive way, to open up the membership to diversity, I think that's very, very important. But it's not just the academy, and I think we have to stop pointing fingers and blaming the academy. It's people that hire, it's people at the main gate of studios and independents. It's the stories that are being told. It's who's writing diversity — it starts on the page. And we all have to be more proactive in getting out there and just seeking talent."

Academy president acknowledges 'elephant in the room' at luncheon

The nominees of the 88th Academy Awards gather for a class photo at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
The nominees of the 88th Academy Awards gather for a class photo at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

This year we all know there's an elephant in the room. I have asked the elephant to leave.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Oscar nominees discuss diversity at annual luncheon

Rooney Mara attends the 88th Academy Awards nominee luncheon on Feb. 8 in Beverly Hills. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Rooney Mara attends the 88th Academy Awards nominee luncheon on Feb. 8 in Beverly Hills. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Countless celebrities have thrown their voices into the conversation on diversity in Hollywood following the limited number of people of color on the Oscar nominee list for the second year in a row. Monday, during the annual Oscars luncheon to honor all nominees, it was no different.

'Creed' director Ryan Coogler convinced Sylvester Stallone to attend the Oscars

 (Rob Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
(Rob Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

I said, ‘If you don’t want me to go, I won’t.’ He said, ‘I want you to go.’ That’s the kind of guy he is. He wanted me to stand up for the film.

Sylvester Stallone, supporting actor Oscar nominee

#OscarsSoWhite art piece channels 1950s segregation

Artist Plastic Jesus revealed an art installation on Melrose Avenue over the weekend in response to the current boycott of the Oscars.

Referencing the 1950s photograph from Elliott Erwitt that depicted segregated drinking fountains, Plastic Jesus has done the same, only with a Hollywood-style dressing room.  

Plastic Jesus made headlines with a cocaine-snorting Oscar-channeling statue from 2015. And this Melrose work is not likely to be the artist's last thoughts on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. 

After revealing the Erwitt-inspired work, Plastic Jesus Instagramed a tease for the next piece, and confirmed it will be another Academy Award-centric design. 

Protest outside Oscar nominees lunch

Update: By 11:00 the small group of protesters were no longer at the Hilton entrance. Beverly Hills PD say they left of their own accord.

There's talk about bringing back the Black Oscars

A Tree of Life Award, left, and an Oscar statuette. (Debbie Allen / Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)
A Tree of Life Award, left, and an Oscar statuette. (Debbie Allen / Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

The annual Tree of Life Awards was launched in 1981 at a time when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rarely recognized black achievements. By that time, only 27 African Americans had been nominated in the 52-year history of the Oscars, with only three winning. The awards, known as the Black Oscars, ended in 2007.

But with the academy nominating an all-white slate of actors for the second year in a row, Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Assn., says the circumstances that prompted the Black Oscars are prevalent again.

How Sacheen Littlefeather's 1973 Oscars speech inspires #OscarsSoWhite advocates today

In 1973, Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather refused to accept Marlon Brando's Oscar for his lead acting role in "The Godfather" in front of millions of viewers. On Brando's behalf, she used the opportunity to make a political statement decrying the stereotyping of Native Americans in movies and TV, and to support American Indian Movement activists at Wounded Knee, S.D. Some in the audience booed, but others found it inspiring, even years after the event. 

Jada Pinkett Smith recently wrote to Littlefeather saying that watching a clip of the Oscars speech provided validation for her boycott of the Oscars this year:

Dear Sacheen Littlefeather:

I am deeply honored that you took the time to write me. I am very aware of who you are and I have watched your speech at the Oscars many times. Your speech and the position you and Mr. Brando took was a much needed validation for my position. Thank you for being one of the brave and courageous to help pave the way for those of us who need a reminder of the importance to simply be true. I will cherish your words and sentiments in hopes that our paths may cross in this lifetime. Until then may the Great Spirit guide us all and may Mother Earth continue to keep us in her compassionate embrace.

In friendship, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Jada Pinkett Smith's letter to Sacheen Littlefeather

Congressmen send letter to film academy and call diversity plan a 'first step'

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs was applauded by two congressmen for the organization's new diversity initiatives, but their recent letter called for more action (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs was applauded by two congressmen for the organization's new diversity initiatives, but their recent letter called for more action (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Though the talents of African Americans have been recognized throughout the Academy's history, overall progress in the entertainment industry — like many other industries — has been uneven and mirrors our society's struggle for diversity.

Representatives Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) statement via letter to academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

'Creed' co-writer Aaron Covington on Oscar boycott: 'It's doing a lot of good'

Michael B. Jordan, right, is Adonis Johnson and Sylvester Stallone is Rocky Balboa in "Creed." (Barry Wetcher / Warner Bros.)
Michael B. Jordan, right, is Adonis Johnson and Sylvester Stallone is Rocky Balboa in "Creed." (Barry Wetcher / Warner Bros.)

"I think there's a lot of unfair treatment," Covington said at a panel Wednesday night sponsored by the Committee of Black Writers at the Writers Guild of America, West. "We're knocking down doors every day, with every movie."

President Obama weighs in on Oscar diversity debate

 (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Speaking to KABC-TV's David Ono during the latest series of "Live from the White House" interviews, President Obama offered his thoughts on the Oscar diversity debate.

California is an example of the incredible diversity of this country. That’s a strength. I think that when everyone’s story is told, then that makes for better art.


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?

President Obama, 'Live from the White House'

Laurence Fishburne on Hollywood's diversity: 'We still have a lot of work to do, but it's gotten better'

Hollywood veteran and "black-ish" star Laurence Fishburne appeared on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" on Tuesday night and spoke a bit about the fervor surrounding this year's Academy Awards. 

When Colbert inquired if matters of diversity had improved since Fishburne began his career as a 14-year old in "Apocalypse Now," Fishburne replied: “It’s gotten better. We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s gotten better.”

However, Fishburne is anticipating one thing about the upcoming Oscars: "I just can’t wait to see how Chris Rock handles it as the host of the Oscars. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

'What will Chris Rock say?' has become a top guessing game in #OscarsSoWhite debate

Chris Rock will again host the Oscars this year. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chris Rock will again host the Oscars this year. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

"As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, 'I'm throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show.'"

Oscars producer Reginald Hudlin on Chris Rock

What will Chris Rock say?

That's one of the main questions surrounding the 88th Academy Awards, which have already become engulfed in an international debate over racial diversity, with the Feb. 28 ceremony still more than a month away.

Reginald Hudlin, who is co-producing the telecast on ABC, told "Entertainment Tonight" that Rock, hired last year as host, had blown up his originally planned monologue as the #OscarsSoWhite controversy has raised awareness about the lack of black nominees in major performing categories.

"He and his writing staff locked themselves in a room," Hudlin said of Rock. "As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, 'I'm throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show.'"

That led to buzz that Rock was planning to lob some scorching one-liners about the debate. Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine and Ian McKellen are among the stars who have now waded into the controversy, and some household names, such as Will Smith and Spike Lee, have said they won't attend the ceremony. Pressure even built on Rock himself to bow out.

But Rock's spokeswoman dismissed the speculation about the monologue, saying that neither Hudlin, "nor anyone else, speaks for Chris."

Academy explains new rules to members

Actor John Krasinski, left, and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs are seen announcing nominees for the lead actor Oscar earlier this month. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Actor John Krasinski, left, and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs are seen announcing nominees for the lead actor Oscar earlier this month. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a letter to members Monday explaining how it will interpret and enforce the sweeping rule changes passed last week with the aim of diversifying the organization.

The new rules, which include a commitment to doubling the number of women and minorities in the academy by 2020 and limiting lifetime voting rights, have created a furor among existing members, many of whom are concerned about their status.

"These new measures are meant to uphold our longstanding mission that Oscars are voted on by active members in the motion picture industry," the academy said in its letter. "They are also meant to be fair and inclusive in their definition of an active member of our community."

Academy's changes don't address 'root cause' of diversity problem, DGA president says

Paris Barclay, DGA president. (Paul A. Hebert / Associated Press)
Paris Barclay, DGA president. (Paul A. Hebert / Associated Press)

The president of the Directors Guild of America weighed in on the #OscarsSoWhite discussion Monday -- labeling the lack of women and people of color in the movie and TV biz "a condition that has long shamed this industry" -- and called for structural changes at Hollywood's gatekeeper level.

"Many times, with the best of intentions, a subject that is a symptom of this industry plague, but not the root cause, is targeted. The Academy's decisions... are important actions and may lead to greater acknowledgement of more diverse films and people who make them," Paris Barclay said in a statement.

However, he said, increasing the diversity of people and projects at the awards-consideration point won't do much to solve Hollywood's underlying diversity issues.

Many times, with the best of intentions, a subject that is a symptom of this industry plague, but not the root cause, is targeted.

Paris Barclay, Directors Guild of America president

"Those who control the pipeline and entryway to jobs must move beyond the 'old boy' network and word-of-mouth hiring," Barclay said.

"They must commit to industry-wide efforts to find available diverse talent that is out there in abundance, or to train and create opportunities for new voices entering our industry. Rules must be implemented to open up the hiring process and rethink the idea of 'approved lists.'"

This isn't the first time Barclay has called for change in Hollywood's hiring practices.

A DGA study released in January 2015 found that 87% of 487 first-time directors in network TV (over five seasons from 2009-13) were white. Women made up 18% of those first-timers.

"Every director needs a first shot to break into the business," Barclay said at the time.

"What this report reveals is that studios, networks and executive producers need to challenge their own hiring practices and offer talented women and minority directors the same opportunities they are giving white males."

Nick Cannon says the Oscars don't matter

Nick Cannon as the character Chi-Raq in Spike Lee’s film "Chi-Raq." (Parrish Lewis / Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)
Nick Cannon as the character Chi-Raq in Spike Lee’s film "Chi-Raq." (Parrish Lewis / Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

Don't be distracted. These three words end a spoken word video posted by rapper-turned-actor Nick Cannon on his Facebook page. The two-minute poem is his response to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy leading pop culture news.

"Look what they did to Oscar," the "Chi-Raq" star begins. "Nah, not another trophy rant. I'm talking Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray. Why we trust what the news say anyway? It's blasphemous, don't get distracted by these lottery tickets and statues. It's just fake gold and plastic."

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