David Oyelowo was at the center of controversy last year when his remarkable performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma” was overlooked in the Best Actor race at the Academy Awards. The actor may not be factoring into the Oscars this year, but he’s not remaining quiet on the #OscarsSoWhite debate either. In the wake of Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith calling for an Oscars boycott over the complete lack of diversity among this year’s acting nominees, Oyelowo has also come out to decry the group, of which he is a member, over its failure to embrace diversity.
“The Academy has a problem,” said Oyelowo at the King Legacy Awards in Los Angeles, where he was presenting Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs with an award named after Rosa Parks. “It’s a problem that needs to be solved. A year ago, I did a film called ‘Selma,’ and after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then. We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.”
In Smith’s widely seen Facebook video, she urged minorities to “let the Academy do them,” but Oyelowo sees the situation differently, citing the Academy Awards as the “zenith” of celebration within the filmmaking community. “We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence,” he said. “I would like to walk away and say it doesn’t matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in.”
“This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room,” he concluded of the Academy’s current predicament. “I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation…The Academy is an institution in which they all say radical and timely change cannot happen quickly. It better happen quickly. The law of this country can change in a matter of months. It better come on. The Oscars is on February 28. Cheryl needs us to pray that by that date, change is going to come. We need to pray for Cheryl, we need to support Cheryl, we need to love Cheryl. We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get negative. But we must make our voice heard.”
Isaacs, on the other hand, issued an official public statement sharing her own thoughts and echoing Oyelowo’s statements. While she took some time to congratulate the current crop of nominees, she didn’t hold back in saying that “it’s time for big changes.”
“The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership,” she wrote. “In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond. As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly.”
Earlier this year at the Governors Awards, Isaacs shared news that the Academy is developing a five-year plan called A2020 with an eye toward improving diversity within the Academy and the industry at large. The 88th Academy Awards will be held February 28.