The Oscars need a major shake-up, the Academy Awards chief has said, amid a growing row over the lack of black stars in this year’s nominations.
Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a statement promising more diversity after Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith both announced that they will boycott this year’s ceremony.
In a lengthy Instagram post, Lee said he “cannot support” the “lily-white” Oscars.
Noting that he was writing on Martin Luther King Jr Day, Lee – who in November was given an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards – said he was fed up: “Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all,” he wrote. “We can’t act?!”
In a video message on Facebook, Pinkett Smith also said she would not attend or watch the Oscars in February.
Pinkett Smith, whose husband, Will Smith, was not nominated for his performance in the NFL head trauma drama Concussion, said it was time for people of colour to disregard the Academy Awards.
“Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power,” she said. “And we are a dignified people and we are powerful.”
She added: “Let’s let the Academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do us differently.”
Last year’s all-white acting nominees also drew calls for a boycott, though not from such prominent individuals as Lee and Pinkett Smith. Whether it had any impact or not, the audience for the broadcast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, was down 16 per cent from the year before – a six-year low.
Ms Isaacs has made a point of presenting a more inclusive show this year. The February 28 broadcast will be hosted by Chris Rock and produced by Django Unchained producer Reginald Hudlin and David Hill. On Saturday, Rock, unveiling a new promotion for the broadcast, called the ceremony “The White BET Awards”.
When Oscar nominations were announced last Thursday, Ms Isaacs acknowledged she was “disappointed” that all 20 acting nominees were again white and promised to “continue the conversation” on diversity.
She has worked to diversify membership for the Academy, which a 2012 study by the Los Angeles Times found is overwhelmingly white and male.
But Ms Isaacs was more explicit and promised an examination of the Academy and a more intense drive to diversify.
“This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes,” she said after this year’s nominations were announced.