LOS ANGELES — A coalition of minority groups and civil rights activists are launching another national boycott and protest of the 2017 Academy Awards.
The announcement was made Jan. 24 hours after this year Academy Award nominations were announced and despite the fact that six black actors were nominated for Oscars, an all-time high.
“We’re elated that after years of exclusion and protests that the Academy is recognizing African-American talent, but that’s not enough,” said Najee Ali, CEO of Project Islamic Hope, who organized a press conference following the announcement of this year’s nominees and helped lead last year’s boycott and protest. “We want to also ensure that there are black people working not just in front of the cameras but behind the cameras.”
Nominated for Academy Awards this year are Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress for her work in “Fences”); Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress, “Hidden Figures”); Naomie Harris (Best Supporting Actress, “Moonlight”); Mahershala Ali, (Best Supporting Actor, “Moonlight”); Ruth Negga (Best Actress, “Loving”) and Denzel Washington (Best Actor, “Fences”).
The 89th Academy Awards will be presented at the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center Feb. 26.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, also called on the Academy to promote greater diversity in hiring and among African Americans, Latinos and Asians in off-camera positions in the film industry.
“As a result of the mass pressure from civil rights leaders on the lily-white Oscars of past years, the Academy has done a better job of promoting diversity in on-screen performance positions as evidenced by this year’s Oscars contender selection of a number of minorities in top acting roles,” Hutchinson said. “But the record of hiring minorities in off-camera positions where the bulk of the film industry work is done remains dismal. The next great challenge to the Academy is to change that.”
Ali said the coalition also has taken notice of what they believe is the exclusion of Latino and Asian-American actors from the list of 2017 nominees.
“They were essentially overlooked as if they didn’t even exist, and that’s not right,” he said. “We’ve always said from day one that our push for diversity was for everyone, not just black people, but all people.”
Gil Robertson, co-founder and president of the African American Film Critics Association, the leading body of black American film critics, said he believes progress is being made and that the Academy has shown great leadership over the past 12 months by increasing diversity in its membership.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Robertson said. “We have a record-breaking year in terms of participation in the Oscars. We have history being made with a black person [Bradford Young] being nominated for best cinematography.
“We’ve never before had three best picture nominees nor have we seen three African-American actresses compete for best supporting roles. We have a lot to celebrate.”
The coalition plans to protest the award ceremony by leading a march at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Highland Avenue starting at 2 p.m. the day the Oscars are presented.
Invitations have been extended to several activists to support the protest, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, who attended last year’s protest.
In an interview with The Wave, Ali said he believes the coalition’s efforts are working and that the groups are hopeful they will have an opportunity to meet with the leadership at several Hollywood studios.
“The only reason why the Academy’s voting membership changed was because of our leadership and our work,” Ali said. “That’s the only reason why.
“So now our fight isn’t so much with the Academy. It’s more with the studios who don’t green light enough projects to have more diverse stories by African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other underrepresented minority groups.
“At the end of the day blacks, Latinos, and Asians spend millions of dollars with Hollywood. We will not let them ignore our combined spending power,” he said.
“No one is saying it’s over,” Robertson said. “Certainly, the industry has a way to go in terms of being inclusive of all the different communities. America is a diverse place and hopefully Hollywood responds by showing a reflection of that.”