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Oscar Voter Stephen King Criticized for Saying He Doesn’t Consider Diversity in Art

"When They See Us" filmmaker Ava DuVernay calls King's comments "so backward and ignorant."

PEN America literary service award recipient Stephen King2018 PEN Literary Gala, New York, USA - 22 May 2018

Stephen King

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Stephen King is at the center of backlash after discussing on social media how he goes about voting for the Academy Awards. The horror author is a member of the Academy’s writing branch and therefore is permitted to vote for nominations in three categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. The Academy has been widely criticized this week for its predominantly white 2020 Oscar nominations. King shared on Twitter a day after the Oscar noms were announced that he selects nominees based on quality and not diversity.

“For me, the diversity issue — as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway — did not come up,” King wrote. “That said, I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”

King’s comments were widely criticized, most notably by “When They See Us” filmmaker Ava DuVernay. The director, who was famously snubbed in the Best Director category for “Selma” in 2015 despite the film garnering a Best Picture nomination, called King’s opinion “backward and ignorant.”

“When you wake up, meditate, stretch, reach for your phone to check on the world and see a tweet from someone you admire that is so backward and ignorant you want to go back to bed,” DuVernay commented.

Writer Roxanne Gay added, “As a fan, this is painful to read from you. It implies that diversity and quality cannot be synonymous. They are not separate things. Quality is everywhere but most industries only believe in quality from one demographic. And now, here you are.”

“With the utmost respect, I think this is quite a bit unfair,” replied bestselling author Morgan Jerkins. “When films created by people of color, irrespective of quality, constantly get overlooked by institutions that are predominately comprised of white men, there is an implicit bias at work here.”

King tried to calm the backlash soon afterward by writing, “The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts. You can’t win awards if you’re shut out of the game.”

The 2020 Oscar nominations feature only one person of color nominated for an acting prize, while only men are in the running for Best Director.

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