Protest Ribbons Evident by Absence


The mention of the Rev. Jesse Jackson got the Academy Awards off to a rousing start Monday night.

Although the reference came in the form of an unflattering joke, and the audience seemed to be laughing at the civil rights leader, Jackson insisted it was he who was celebrating by evening’s end.

Host Whoopi Goldberg made fun of Jackson’s protest of the Oscars and the almost total absence of black Academy Award nominees. Jackson had asked attendees of the ceremony to wear rainbow-colored ribbons to show solidarity with his targeting of Hollywood for what he called its lack of racial diversity.


Goldberg made her comment while Jackson was across town marching in front of KABC-TV Channel 7, which was broadcasting the ceremonies locally.

“Jesse Jackson asked me to wear a ribbon. I got it,” Goldberg quipped during her opening monologue, in which she talked about the cavalcade of ribbons that various advocacy groups had asked her to wear.

“But I had something I might want to say to Jesse right here, but he’s not watching, so why bother?” added the ribbon-less Goldberg as the audience erupted in laughter and applause.

Although Jackson’s weeklong campaign in Los Angeles gave encouragement to a coalition of groups composed of ethnic actors, writers and technicians who said they had been denied access to Hollywood, those at the Oscars seemed to regard the crusade far less seriously.

Few rainbow ribbons were in evidence, and many African American celebrities, including Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Will Smith, Naomi Campbell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the singing group Take 6 were not wearing them. Laurence Fishburne, whom Jackson said had promised to wear a ribbon, was also ribbon-less.

Quincy Jones, who produced the Oscar telecast and appeared as a presenter, was one of the few seen wearing a rainbow ribbon. More visible were red ribbons in support of AIDS awareness.

In an apparent reference to Jackson, actor Nathan Lane joked during the ceremony that he had just seen Ross Perot yelling and screaming outside the Music Center, wanting “to know why more nutty billionaires weren’t nominated.”

But by Oscar’s conclusion, Jackson was far from displeased.

“Tonight was a moral victory, and the consciousness was raised to a new level,” Jackson said in an interview. “These were political statements that used comedy to mask tragedy. These jokes keep the issue alive and give it more focus. Unwittingly, these people went to the front of our struggle. It gave attention to our concerns.”

Jackson was also satisfied with the response here and in other cities to his protest, in which he asked for supporters to picket ABC stations. ABC broadcast the awards ceremony.

Jackson said he chose not to hold the protest at the Music Center, the site of the Oscars, out of respect for Jones and Goldberg.

Jackson led a march of nearly 100 vocal supporters in front of KABC-TV’s Hollywood studio a few hours before the ceremony. He said the march was one of about 20 taking place in front of ABC stations across the nation.

“We are raising the consciousness of the decision makers in Hollywood tonight,” Jackson said, flanked by leaders of organizations such as American Indians in Film, the Media Action Network of Asian Americans and other ethnic entertainment groups.

Although the Los Angeles protest was vocal, demonstrations in at least two other cities were not attracting as much enthusiasm. No one was picketing in front of New York’s WABC-TV just before 8 p.m., and only about 10 to 12 people were marching in front of the ABC News bureau in Washington.