I want to congratulate all of the Academy Award nominees. These people are quite deserving of being recognized as the best in their field this year. I especially want to congratulate screenwriters Jon Herman and Andrea Berloff who had the unenviable task of bringing the complex true story of ‘America’s Most Dangerous Group’ to life in Straight Outta Compton. Your nomination is well deserved.
But who I REALLY want to applaud are some other actors, directors and producers who were at the top of their game this year. A list that includes, but is not limited to, Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, Will Smith, John Boyega, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tessa Thompson, Audra McDonald, Adepero Oduye, Samuel L.Jackson, Oshea Jackson Jr, Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, F. Gary Gray and Ryan Coogler. Yes, they made us laugh. Yes, they made us cry. Yes, they made us angry. Yes, they made us think. Yes, they are all black. No, not one was nominated for the movie industry’s highest honor. I also give extra special props (and I can understand if you think this comes with a little bias) to a team that I think was egregiously overlooked by The Academy—Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, F. Gary Gray and Scott Bernstein – what you did was incredible. Many people have no idea about the YEARS that you labored to bring an incredibly challenging and complicated biopic to the big screen. Most have no idea of ALL the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that you had to navigate to make Straight Outta Compton a reality. But I’m not giving you props for that. I know firsthand how incredibly difficult (and what a small MIRACLE) it is for EVERY single movie to get made. No, you get major props because you overcame those odds AND… the movie was GREAT. It was absolutely freaking EXCELLENT. Without a doubt one of the BEST producural efforts of the year. Even though I’m definitely disappointed that The Academy voters did not see it so, I take great solace in knowing that that’s not why you made the movie. The impact is undeniable and your legacies are cemented. Congratulations.
To my #OscarsSoWhite folks who are angry at the absurd lack of diversity highlighted yet again by this year’s Oscar noms. Trust me, I get it. Those of us in the industry who labor to make the best content we can are especially sensitive to a perceived systemic bias against a group of people or type of film. One thing I will say, is that The Academy’s voting record is only part of the issue. These films/performances and the scripts that drive them often go into development YEARS before they are released and thus in Oscar contention. We need more content produced by, written by, directed by and featuring filmmakers and actors of color being given the greenlight. We need them to start moving forward this year so in 2019 there are quality projects in contention! Although there were multiple performances and films that existed this year(and were overlooked), we still need more. We need those of us in the industry, and those outside trying to get in, to continue to push Hollywood to create opportunities for these films so that we have more than a handful each year.
To my Academy colleagues, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. Period. The reason the rest of the world looks at us like we have no clue is because in 2016 it’s a complete embarrassment to say that the heights of cinematic achievement have only been reached by white people. I repeat—it’s embarrassing. It’s unfair to the performers of color who sacrificed so much, laid it all on the line AND DELIVERED with their projects this year. It’s also unfair to the white actors, writers, producers and directors who gave everything they had to create career defining content only to have it marred by the fact that a lack of diversity calls into question the legitimacy of The Academy’s choices.
I applaud Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs for her recent attempts to bring more diversity to The Academy. I applaud Producer Reginald Hudlin on his attempts to make the Oscar ceremony feel as inclusionary as possible. I look forward to working with them both to be a part of positive change going forward. WE must do better. We will. And make no mistake, we have. Even in the midst of this year’s disappointing results I am emboldened by the fact that we had new and exciting diverse voices and performers along with tried and true veterans that were at least in the conversation. Strides have definitely been made. And it’s not lost on me that this very weekend the movie that just might supplant one of the highest grossing movies of all time for the #1 spot at the box office is a movie that has two stars, a director and a producer who happen to be black. Happy MLK Weekend everybody.