Al Sharpton Calls for National ‘Tune Out’ of ‘White Oscars’

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

The Rev. Al Sharpton is calling on all Americans to “tune out” of the 88th Academy Awards next month.

In an interview with Variety, the civil rights leader said that his National Action Network organization was planning to hold conference calls and meetings with African-American leaders with the aim of encouraging the public not to watch the broadcast of the awards show, set to air on February 28.

“We’ve talked about the climate of exclusion for people of color in Hollywood both in terms of being selected for possible awards and in terms of having power to make deals and it seems as though Hollywood listens a day or two and moves on,” Sharpton told the outlet. “Now it’s time to make sure we can’t be ignored. A ‘tune out’ can do that.”

Sharpton’s call for a national boycott comes as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) faces swirling controversy over its latest Oscar nominations; all 20 actors and actresses tapped for honors in the top acting categories are white.

On Monday, filmmaker Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith vowed to boycott the awards show for what they called the exclusion of black actors. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and rapper Snoop Dogg joined the boycott effort on Tuesday. Straight Outta Compton executive producer Will Packer has called the lack of diversity among the nominees a “complete embarrassment,” while Selma star David Oyelowo called for a “radical and timely change” in the Academy’s nominating process.

Sharpton blasted the awards show and Hollywood in general shortly after the nominations were announced on Thursday, saying in a statement that the film industry perpetuates a “fraudulent image of progressive and liberal politics and policies.” The Los Angeles chapter of Sharpton’s National Action Network had threatened to boycott the Academy Awards last year, when the controversy over diversity at the awards show first emerged, but no protest ultimately materialized.

In his conversation with Variety, Sharpton said the Academy’s nominating process had “failed, because it’s a small body with an even smaller percentage of people of color.”

“When you have an industry where 40% of the theater-goers are people of color, but the representation [of] people of color in the Academy is much smaller, you have a situation that is offensive and insulting,” Sharpton said.

“Secondly, the reason why it’s so important to us is because the Oscars have always been considered the ultimate prize in American cinema and culture. We can not afford in an era that we can have a black in the White House, a black attorney general, but a black for two years or a brown for two years can’t get an Oscar nomination? There’s something totally contradictory about that.”

Sharpton added that the issue of diversity is “broader” than just the Oscars and extends “industry-wide.” Spike Lee made a similar point in his own boycott statement, saying that “until minorities are [in film studios’ boardrooms], the Oscar nominees will remain lily white.”

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a lengthy statement Monday addressing the controversy, saying she was “heartbroken” and “frustrated” by the lack of diversity among the nominees.

“This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes,” Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, said in a statement. “The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.  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.”


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