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#OscarsSoWhite: Black Filmmakers Call Out Hollywood Racism, Exclusion as Calls for Boycott Grow

StoryJanuary 25, 2016
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A growing number of actors and filmmakers are pushing for a boycott of the Oscars after no actors of color were nominated for a second year in a row. The largely white male Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responded by pledging to overhaul its voting requirements and to double membership of women and people of color by 2020. We discuss the boycott calls with two African-American filmmakers: Stanley Nelson, whose latest film is “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” and Dawn Porter, director of “Trapped,” which just had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. “This reminds me of when baseball was segregated—the Negro Leagues,” Porter says. “Does anyone really think that all of the talent that was in the sport was being recognized?”

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AMY GOODMAN: A growing number of actors and filmmakers are pushing for a boycott of the Oscars after no actors of color were nominated; for a second year in a row, no actors of color were nominated for an Oscar. While movies about African Americans like Straight Outta Compton and Creed did receive nominations, they went to the white writers of Straight Outta Compton and white actor Sylvester Stallone for best supporting actor in Creed. The African-American directors and non-white actors were excluded. Director Spike Lee, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, actor Will Smith and others have said they plan to skip the February 28th award ceremony. Spike Lee appeared last week on Good Morning America.

SPIKE LEE: I have never used the word “boycott.” All I said was my wife, my beautiful wife Tonya, we’re not coming. That’s it. Then I gave the reasons. So I’ve never used the word “boycott.” I never have said to anybody—it’s like, do you. We’re not coming, not going. This whole Academy thing is a misdirection play.


SPIKE LEE: We’re chasing the guy down the field; he doesn’t even have the ball. The other guy is high-stepping in the end zone. So, this goes—it goes further than the Academy Awards. It has to go back to the gatekeepers.


SPIKE LEE: Yes, the people who have the greenlight vote. Have you seen Hamilton yet?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I have seen Hamilton. Unbelievable.

SPIKE LEE: You know the song, “You’ve Got to Be in the Room”?


SPIKE LEE: We’re not in the room. We are not in the room. The executives, when they have these greenlight meetings, quarterly, where they look at the scripts, they look at who’s in it, and they decide what we’re making, what we’re not making.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How about your own experience? You get—you make your movies. Do you feel like you’ve been snubbed, like you haven’t had a fair hearing?

SPIKE LEE: What won best film 1989?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I don’t know, actually.

SPIKE LEE: Driving Miss F-in’ Daisy.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And which film did you have in 1989?

SPIKE LEE: Do the Right Thing. That film is being taught in colleges, schools, all—no one’s watching this Driving Miss Daisy now. So it also shows you that the work is what’s important, because that’s the stuff that’s going to stand for years, not an award, not whether it be a Grammy, a Tony or whatnot.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So, even if you don’t get the Oscar, there is some success, but there’s still a huge problem in the whole studio system.

SPIKE LEE: From top to bottom.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Spike Lee being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos of ABC. The largely white male Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responded by pledging to overhaul its voting requirements and to double membership of women and people of color by 2020. The board of the Academy is currently 96 percent white and 71 percent white male. Here at Sundance, I spoke with award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson and asked him about his thoughts on the Academy’s response to the boycott.

STANLEY NELSON: I think, you know, that helps to address the Academy’s problem, but I’m not sure if it addresses the problem overall in Hollywood, that, again, you know, is of a media that’s very dominated by white people, by white men. And those are the stories that they tell, and those are the stories that they’ve been telling for over a hundred years.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does that affect our culture?

STANLEY NELSON: Well, you know, I think it makes us kind of used to having a certain group be in the dominant role. You know, that’s who we’re used to seeing. And not only us, but that media travels all over the world, and that’s what the world sees. So I think it’s very—you know, Hollywood is very influential. So I think, you know, Hollywood has to want to change. And I think that what’s happening now that’s good is that people are saying to Hollywood, “You need to change.” And so, hopefully it will.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the boycott called for the Oscars?

STANLEY NELSON: Well, I mean, I think that individuals should do what they want. I mean, I know that I’d have a hard time, with what’s going on, to go there and sit there, you know, in my fancy dress and clap. So I think there’s a lot of people who just feel uncomfortable, and I think they should. And I think also the thing that’s important, too, is that white people join in. You know, if you care, then you need to also join in in this boycott and in making Hollywood change.

AMY GOODMAN: What would make Hollywood change? What do you think would change society?

STANLEY NELSON: I think the only thing that is going to make Hollywood change is the boycott and for somehow this to affect the bottom line of Hollywood. The problem with Hollywood and the success of Hollywood are the same. Hollywood is making more and more money every year, so why should they change? But once the bottom line is affected, then Hollywood will change.

AMY GOODMAN: Filmmaker Stanley Nelson, director of Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. It airs on PBS on February 16th. His other films include Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer.

Still with us here in Park City, Utah, is Dawn Porter, the director of Trapped, which just had its world premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival. And she has directed other films, Gideon’s Army, Spies of Mississippi. Your response here, Dawn? You know, when you saw the announcements of the Oscars, all 20 actors and actresses, not one a person of color.

DAWN PORTER: You know, it goes beyond actors and actresses. I mean, I think there’s also an appalling lack of recognition of screenwriters, of directors. I have to say that the day the Academy nominations came out, I had such a sinking feeling of despair. I really was hopeful last year with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, with the conversation, with everybody’s pledges to do better. Not only did they not do better, they did worse. How could it possibly be that in a year when so much fine work is emerging from actors, directors, producers, writers of color, that not—I mean, that no one is recognized for their artistic achievements? And I think that that’s a real problem.

AMY GOODMAN: There are feeders into the Oscars, like Sundance. Now, while there’s the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, at Sundance it’s #SundanceNotSoWhite. Do you feel that’s true?

DAWN PORTER: I feel it’s absolutely true. I mean, you see coming into—in the documentary competition, which my film is competing, in which Trapped, which Gideon’s Army competed three years ago, there, 40 percent of the directors are women. And in—you also have—and you have directors of color. But, you see, once you move through that pipeline, those people disappear. It’s as if, you know, Sundance didn’t happen. So, a film festival, that is one of the premier film festivals in the country, where is all that talent being recognized?

AMY GOODMAN: Do you support a boycott of the Oscars?

DAWN PORTER: I absolutely support a boycott. You know, this reminds me of when baseball was segregated, you know, the Negro Leagues. Does anyone really think that all of the talent that was in the sport was being recognized? How can you possibly look at the films that are coming out and think that the best—you know, the Oscars are supposed to represent the best of what we have to offer. How can that possibly be, if none of these fine films are recognized?

AMY GOODMAN: And Spike Lee’s comment that it’s about the gatekeepers?

DAWN PORTER: I think it absolutely is about the gatekeepers, but I don’t think we should absolve the voting members of the Academy. I think that there’s a real focus on their—

AMY GOODMAN: Dawn Porter, thanks so much. Her film is called Trapped. It airs on PBS on—


AMY GOODMAN: In June. And we will talk about it when it’s coming out.

That does it for our show. A very happy birthday to Charina Nadura. Democracy Now! has two job openings: director of finance and operations and development director. Visit for more information.

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