All eyes are currently on the drama surrounding the lack of diversity with this year’s Academy Award nominations. Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others have already condemned the Oscars and even vowed to boycott the ceremony. But in the long run, after the controversy has calmed, what is really best for Black Hollywood — inclusion or independence?
At first, when it was announced that there were no actors of color nominated, it seemed as though things would pan out similarly to what happened last year: Black people would complain and then forget about everything after the show aired. But when Smith released a video, befittingly on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, expressing her disappointment in the Academy and suggesting that “we pull our resources and put them back into our communities … [and] make programs for ourselves,” it showed that things might be different this time. Some critics, such as Janet Hubert — aka the first Aunt Viv on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” — questioned whether Smith is only upset because her husband, Will Smith, was snubbed for his performance in Concussion. But whatever reason the actress chose to speak out, it made a bold statement that the creation of a prestigious Black awards program is necessary in order for our actors to receive proper recognition.
On the same day Smith made her comments, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy’s first African American president, released a statement on the matter, basically reassuring the public that diversity is now a priority for the organization:
“I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees. While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. 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,” read the statement in part.
This statement might be code for “We will be sure to nominate one or two people of color next year to pacify you Black people who are complaining.” It’s very possible that adding a few token Black nominees could appease Smith and other outraged actors to the point that they’ll forget about plans to create a Black academy. After all, it seems that for some celebrities, inclusion in mainstream Hollywood trumps receiving respect and praise from African American peers and fans.
Rev. Al Sharpton is also striking against the Academy, but it seems that instead of siding with Smith, he just wants the Oscars to acknowledge Blacks. The activist has linked up with Spike Lee and will launch a campaign encouraging a boycott of the Oscars. His National Action Network press release stated that his aim is to send a message that “Americans will turn off anything that does not represent the broad cultural and diverse contributions of American entertainment.” There was no word on whether uniting for the purpose of creating a Black academy is part of his plan.
In 2016, after Black actors have been awarded White Hollywood’s prestigious honors only for playing roles such as maids, slaves and characters with low morals, but are overlooked when portraying people who have pride, dignity and intelligence, why still continue to ask for mainstream acceptance at all? Even if the Oscars throw a few actors of color a bone, the unequal treatment will not cease. Of course, letting go of White Hollywood would mean a total revamping of Black Hollywood. Yes, it could result in blackballing, but then that could lead to Black people having no choice but to take control over our own image in the media, which is much-needed and long overdue.
Unless our entertainers are content with our greatness being overlooked, other actors should be expected to follow Smith’s lead and band together. It would be the respectable thing to do.