Jesse Jackson: ‘Star Wars’ Record-Breaking Box Office Success Due to Racially Diverse Cast

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images, Lucasfilm
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images, Lucasfilm

Rev. Jesse Jackson partially credits the casting of black British actor John Boyega for the financial success of Star Wars: the Force Awakens in an op-ed piece about “Hollywood apartheid.”

“For the second year in a row, no actor or actress of color has been nominated for an Academy Award. That is a shameful streak,” Jackson wrote in USA TODAY on Monday. “But the growing outcry over the whitewashing of the prestigious golden statue and the industry it celebrates is a sign of at least some progress.”

On Jan. 14, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that for a second straight year, all 20 nominations in the main acting categories went to white actors. Following a backlash, on Jan. 22, the Academy announced a series of aggressive new measures to its voting rules and organizational structure, which are aimed at doubling the number of female and minority members by the year 2020.

Subsequently, the new measures remove voting privileges from many older Academy members and aggressively recruit new voting members “who represent greater diversity.”

Jackson praised the Academy and its president Cheryl Boone Isaacs for the membership changes, and also thanked stars Jada Pinkett Smith, Oscar winning director Spike Lee and Danny DeVito, who were among a number of celebrities who criticized or pledged to boycott the 88th Academy Awards.

“I applaud President Boone Isaacs and the 51-member board of governors. But the lack of diversity starts long before the stars pose and parade on the red carpet come Oscar night,” Jackson wrote, blaming Hollywood studios for discriminating against black performers.

“The people who can ‘greenlight’ a film, the people who make the key decisions about what and who the world will see at the local multiplex, are almost all white and all male,” he wrote.

DeVito, who Jackson heavily praised, recently summed up Americans as “a bunch of racists” when speaking about the #Oscars SoWhite controversy.

“It’s unfortunate that the entire country is a racist country. So it’s an example of the fact that even though some great people have given some great performances in movies, they weren’t even thought about,” DeVito said. “We are living in a country that discriminates and has certain racist tendencies.”

DeVito concluded, “generally speaking, we’re a bunch of racists.”

According to Jackson, DeVito and the other stars were speaking out against what he described as “apartheid” in film.

Jackson also wrote that minority performers are the future of the industry.

“By midcentury, America will be a majority minority country. But it is already clear that diversity is good for business,”Jackson stated. “Films with diverse casts, according to the Bunche Center report, enjoyed the highest median global box-office receipts and the highest median return on investment.”

He added: “Indeed, the movie that broke box office records around the world in 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, stars a white woman and a black man.”

To date, The Force Awakens has grossed nearly $2 billion.

Read Jackson’s full op-ed here.


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