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BET Founder: Studios Should Be Willing to Lose Money for Diversity

Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder Robert L. “Bob” Johnson weighed-in on the race controversy surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations on Tuesday, and suggested film studios should be willing to relinquish profits in order to ensure more diversity in film.

In a series of recommendations released on how the The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) might “increase the pool of diversity for Oscar nominations,” Johnson asked his peers in a statement to “engage with the studios” to ask why there are not more films featuring black actors.

The BET founder then appeared to suggest film studios should be willing to take financial losses in the name of diversity:

For example, why was Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe or Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson both greenlit but not films based on the true story of the African general Hannibal or the African chief and warrior Shaka Zulu? If the answer is financial or there is a belief that there is a lack of cultural interest or identity in those stories those issues need to be addressed with the studios.

Johnson also proposed adding more “qualified minority individuals” as Academy members, encouraged the industry to cast roles “without regard to color/race,” and encouraged major studios to hire more minorities in their creative and development departments.

In an interview with industry outlet TheWrap about a lack of diversity surrounding the 88th Academy Awards, Johnson also said his decades of experience make him a “voice of reason” on creating diverse content.

For the second straight year, all 20 Oscar nominations in the four major acting categories have gone exclusively to white actors. Johnson told TheWrap “preconceived biases” are partially responsible for the absence of a minority actor among the nominees.

“I won’t use the word racism. I’m not going to run away from that as an issue that has plagued this country since its founding, but I think what I will use, is preconceived biases that are part economic and part cultural, and as a result of that, we are sort of where we are today,” Johnson said.

Johnson then called on film studios to produce more diverse projects and suggested minority artists work independently of the Hollywood establishment:

If you ask a culture to tell your stories, they simply can’t do it or won’t do it because that goes against their innate belief that their culture deserves to be trumpeted, promoted, enjoyed. So, if you’re the African-American society and you wait for white America to say ‘I’m gonna tell your stories,’ first of all, they don’t know them or appreciate them, and second of all, that is not in their DNA.

Johnson further commented on a complaint that black actors are only recognized by the Academy for their work when they play roles serving white people.

“They [whites] can tell societal abuses about you, because someone understands it, that’s why you can get a ’12 Years a Slave.’ That’s why you can get ‘The Help.’ But the stories about you doing things to show your power? It’s just not something that other cultures do.”

The BET founder made no comments of a growing boycott of the Feb. 28 telecast.

The boycott includes celebrities Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Moore and rapper Snoop Dogg.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a statement earlier this week regarding the Academy’s lack of minority nominees.

“The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership,” Isaacs said in a statement on Monday. “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.”

Johnson launched BET in 1980, and debuted subscription-based service Urban Movie Channel (UMC) in 2014. In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, he supported current frontrunner Hillary Clinton over then-Sen. Barack Obama.

Read more of Johnson’s diversity recommendations here.

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