Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith have vowed to boycott this year’s Academy Awards show because of its lack of racial diversity, putting some of Hollywood’s other African-Americans – including host Chris Rock – in a tough spot.
“My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee and I will not be attending the Oscar ceremony this coming February,” Spike Lee wrote on his Instagram account Monday morning. “We cannot support it.”
Lee’s post is the latest and perhaps most serious statement of displeasure with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ second consecutive year of all-white Oscar nominees in all acting categories. This year’s oversights included Will Smith in “Concussion,” Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation” and the cast of the rap biopic “Straight Outta Compton.” That film did not receive a nod for best picture even though the category this year features only eight of ten possible titles.
The Academy’s nominees have been met with a revival of last year’s Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which put Academy president Chery Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, on the defensive.
“It’s no coincidence I’m writing this as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday,” Lee wrote. “Dr. King said, ‘There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it’s right.’”
Also announcing a boycott on the MLK holiday was Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who followed her earlier outraged Twitter posts – in which she floated the idea of a boycott — with a Facebook video announcing definitively that she would not attend the show.
“We no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere,” Pinkett Smith said in the video. “Begging for acknowledgment, or even asking, diminishes dignity.”
Both Lee and Pinkett Smith took pains not to disparage show host Chris Rock, and Lee noted that Reginald Hudlin, the African-American producer of the Oscar broadcast, was a friend. Still, the boycott from two high-profile black Hollywood figures puts clear pressure on Rock and potentially others. Might the boycott grow to include F. Gary Gray, the African-American director of “Straight Outta Compton,” who recently called the mostly-white Oscars “embarrassing?” Or Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, the African-American director and star, respectively, of “Creed,” which earned a nomination only for supporting actor Sylvester Stallone?
So far, Rock has limited his comments to a wry Twitter post calling the Oscars “the white BET Awards.” Pinkett Smith used her video to send Rock a supportive message, though it also sounded like a request for the comedian to address the controversy directly. “Hey Chris,” she said, smiling, “I will not be at the Academy Awards and I won’t be watching, but I can’t think of a better man for the job this year than you, my friend.”
Representatives for Rock and Coogler said they were not available for comment. Representatives for Jordan, Gray and Elba did not respond to requests for comment.