Imagine you went to bed the evening of January 13, 2016 feeling smug in the knowledge that you are a member of a venerated organization that hosts an annual awards show watched by 45 to 55 million people.
Now imagine that when you wake up the next morning, your organization has been exposed as an exclusionary, old white people’s club. You are one of the 6261 members of the 94 percent white, 77 percent male, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
On January 14, 2016, the Academy announced its Oscar nominees. For the categories of best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress, all 20 nominees were white. As evidenced by their nominations, Academy members believe that no person of color gave one of the top 20 performances in 2015. That’s laughable. That the same thing happened last year makes it ludicrous.
Hollywood, we have a problem. We also have a boycott brewing.
Director Spike Lee announced that he would not be attending this year’s Oscars. In an Instagram post, Spike added, “How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let's Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can't Act?! WTF!!”
Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith also announced that she would not attend the Oscars. Her husband, actor Will Smith, was overlooked by the Academy for his role in “Concussion.” In a video posted on Facebook, Pinkett-Smith said, "At the Oscars ... people of color are always welcomed to give out awards ... even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together?"
How did this happen? How did the Academy get it so wrong?
Well, the Academy isn’t the only villain. The problem originates in the corner offices of the studios. According to a 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report issued by UCLA’s Center for African American Studies, 94 percent of all studio executives are white. As Spike Lee put it, “It’s easier for an African American to become president of the United States than it is for an African American to run a Hollywood studio.” #HollywoodSoWhite.
These white executives decide which movies get made. They also decide which of their films is “Oscar worthy,” which then triggers an Oscar campaign. Yes, they actually campaign for an Oscar.
“Hollywood spends on average about $150 million dollars a year to win an Oscar that costs $400 to manufacture,” according to Tom O’Neil, the founder of awards site GoldDerby.com. An Oscar campaign for the best picture nomination can cost as much as $10 million, according to estimates by Stephen Follows a London-based producer, blogger and teacher.
This post originally appeared on abovethelaw.com.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.