The documentary film-maker Michael Moore is to join a growing boycott of next month’s Oscars following the announcement that no actors from black or ethnic minority backgrounds have been nominated for awards.
After the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ failed to highlight the work of non-white professionals for the second year running, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee and other stars have announced they will not attend the 2016 ceremony.
Moore, an Oscar-winner in 2003 for his documentary Bowling for Columbine, told The Wrap that Hollywood’s struggles with diversity, and the ethnically limited film industry culture in Los Angeles, in particular, were to blame for this year’s all-white list of nominations. “A fish rots from the head down,” he said. “The problem has to get fixed in the studio system, which has been a white-dominated, male-dominated industry for ever.
“When you’re working in New York, you have a day-to-day existence with African Americans in the industry here,” added Moore. “But I can fly to LA for two or three days of meetings and never encounter an African American person in any position of power. I can very easily leave LAX, go to a West Hollywood hotel, have a meeting in Burbank, another meeting in Century City and another in Santa Monica, go back to LAX and never encounter an African American who isn’t in a service position. I love LA but the problem has to get fixed there.”
While professing support for Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has vowed to improve diversity among Oscars voters, Moore said the organisation’s inability to change convinced him to act.
“The idea that we could go two years in a row, when 40 actors could be nominated and none of them were black, is just crazy,” he said. “So if it will help to lend my name to what Spike and Jada are doing, I’m hoping to be a symbolic participant in this.”
The film-maker expressed his shock after discovering in 2010 that none of the 150 members of the Oscars documentary branch, whose board Moore had been invited to join, were black. He said: “They told me that maybe there used to be one, but now there were zero. And I said, ‘I’m not going to represent an all-white branch in the 21st century.’”
In related news, the creator of the #Oscarssowhite hashtag has offered a six-point plan to fix the diversity deficit in an interview with MTV News. Activist and writer April Reign, who created the tag last year to highlight the omission of black talent in the 2015 Oscars ceremony, said voters should work harder to view movies that did not reflect their background, and studios needed to promote films featuring black talent more than they currently do.
“[Selma] was a fantastic film with critical acclaim, but the screeners themselves were not being sent out to Academy members,” Reign said. “We need to see the studios supporting the films from beginning to end. It’s one thing to say, ‘Yes, we made a quote unquote black film,’ but if you drop it after that and no one sees it, then what good has been done?”
Reign also said the Academy should invite more black people to join, and consider asking older, often largely white, members to relinquish their voting rights if they are no longer active in the film industry. She said producers needed to be more willing to cast more people from “traditionally underrepresented segments of society”, and called for film industry professionals and the media to keep the diversity issue alive by continuing to discuss it publicly. Finally, she said the Academy should be open about its efforts to boost non-white involvement by providing regular progress updates.
By Ben Child