will smith oscars boycott

If you read about movies on the internet, you’re surely familiar with the recent controversy surrounding this year’s Academy Awards nominations. But here’s the short version: for the second year in a row, every single acting nominee and four of the five directing nominees were white. This lack of representation, a symptom of an industry that is still dominated by white men, was the finally straw for many actors, filmmakers, writers, and movie fans. With the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag as their rallying cry, this group of concerned citizens set out to raise awareness and question why the biggest awards show on the planet was snubbing people of color.

And now, two new major names have joined the cause. Will Smith says he’ll be skipping the ceremony altogether and Mark Ruffalo, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Spotlight, may follow suit.

Smith revealed his decision on Good Morning America (via ScreenCrush). While he was complimentary of the nominees, Smith explained why he’d be sitting out this year’s Academy Awards:

“I think that diversity is the American super-power. That’s why we’re great. So many different people from so many different places adding their ideas, their inspiration, and their influences to this beautiful American gumbo. For me, at its best, Hollywood represents and then creates the imagery for that beauty. But for my part, I think that I have to protect and fight for the ideals that make our country and make our Hollywood community great. And so when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it’s not reflecting that beauty.”

Smith added that these nominations are representative of the nation’s “regressive slide” towards “separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony.” Even if you think an Oscar boycott is a silly way to make a point, he’s not entirely inaccurate – pick a random headline from the past year and there’s a strong chance it will involve something you don’t want to bring up at Thanksgiving.

On a slightly more optimistic note, Smith recalled that he was beaten out at the Academy Awards by black actors…twice:

“I’ve been nominated twice for Academy Awards. And I’ve never lost to a white person! The first time I lost to Denzel and the second time I lost to Forest Whitaker. So, for me, that was huge.”

Although Smith wasn’t nominated for his latest film, Concussion, the absence of one of the biggest movie stars in the world from Hollywood’s most prestigious event is a big deal. However, a bigger deal would be one of the nominated actors boycotting the ceremony and that’s what Mark Ruffalo is mulling over. Speaking with the BBC, the Spotlight actor sided with those who think things are a little rotten:

“I totally agree. It isn’t just the Academy Awards. The entire American system is rife with a kind of white privileged racism…”

When directly asked if he would boycott the awards, Ruffalo said that he was considering it:

“I’m weighing it, yes. That’s where I’m at right now. I woke up in the morning thinking what is the right way to do this. If you look at Martin Luther King’s legacy, what he was saying was that the good people who don’t act are much worse than the wrongdoers who are purposely not acting and don’t know the right way.”

Smith and Ruffalo’s statements come after director Spike Lee, who received an honorary Oscar in November, announced that he would be boycotting the ceremony. That news was quickly followed by a statement from Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who agreed that “We need to do more, and better and more quickly.”

And now, former Academy president Hawk Koch has chimed in on the matter, writing an open letter over at The Hollywood Reporter where he calls for changes in how the entire film industry utilizes and cultivates diverse talent. Here’s a sample:

Lately I – along with many others – have been thinking long and hard about the dearth of diversity within our industry. I say “our industry” because I don’t believe this is just an Academy problem rather it’s an industry-wide problem and up until now we have not done a very good job. And while I also don’t believe this problem can be solved quickly, I know that it can and should be solved…with effort by every single one of us but, it must be addressed immediately.


I know that many programs already exist but, clearly our industry needs to do more to find and develop talent in all the crafts. We must work with the Unions and the Guilds as well as schools across the country to identify and cultivate the talent of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, LGBTs, the disabled and all under represented groups. And then we have to allow them access to every single aspect of filmmaking.

With the Oscars still over a month away, expect to see a great many more stories about this in the weeks ahead.

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