Will Smith will join his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, in not attending the 2016 Academy Awards in protest of a lack of diversity among nominees. According to The Playlist, 95.3% of all Oscar contenders this year are white, with no black actors, actresses, or directors receiving nods; the same was true in 2015.
“We’ve discussed it,” Smith said in an interview on Good Morning America. “We’re part of this community but at this current time, we’re uncomfortable to stand there and say that this is OK.” He jokingly added, “My wife’s not going. It would be awkward to show up with Charlize [Theron].”
A two-time Oscar nominee himself, Smith explained that his decision to boycott the awards ceremony has more to do with its lack of reflecting what he calls the “beautiful American gumbo” than any particular snubbing. “For me, at its best, Hollywood represents and then creates the imagery for that beauty. But for my part, I think that I have to protect and fight for the ideals that make our country and make our Hollywood community great … So when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it’s not reflecting that beauty.”
He went on to say that with a membership that is 94% Caucasian and 77% male, the Academy of Arts and Motion Picture Sciences doesn’t represent the type of culture he sees as Hollywood’s legacy. “There is a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony and that’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind. That’s not the industry, that’s not the America I want to leave behind.”
Some, most vocally Janet Hubert (who played Aunt Vivian on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for three seasons before being replaced by Daphne Reid), have accused Pinkett Smith of calling for a boycott primarily because her husband was snubbed for his role in Concussion. “There’s probably a part of that in there,” Smith said in response to such claims, “but, for Jada, had I been nominated and no other people of color were, she would have made the video anyway. We’d still be here having this conversation. This is so deeply not about me.”
Pinkett Smith offered her own reply to Hubert, telling ET, “This whole Oscar controversy isn’t really about the Oscars. Really, in my plea to ask all communities and people of color to take back our power is so that we can use it in all sectors of our community, and right now, specifically with African-American people, we have some very serious issues that I think we as a people have to move together on.”
For her part, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has promised “dramatic steps” to fix the lack of diversity not only among nominees, but Academy members. As The New York Times reports, the Academy is considering a temporary revocation of voting privileges if members don’t cast ballots every year. They’re also contemplating halting voting privileges all together for individuals who haven’t worked in over 10 years. The latter option runs the risk of excluding retired and respected legends in the field from weighing in, as Academy membership is for life.
The awards categories may also undergo some alterations. There’s talk of returning to the firm count of 10 nominees for Best Picture that began in 2009, a rule that was changed two years later to allow for a range of five to 10 nominees, depending on voting. While that rule is largely expected to take effect, the Academy is also considering expanding the acting nominations to 10, a move which would be unprecedented.
Whatever changes are coming, the announcement is likely to be made next week. All 51 members of the Academy board are meeting on Tuesday to discuss their plans.
Watch Smith’s entire Good Morning America interview at ABC.
Update — Friday January 22nd: The Academy has announced a series of changes aimed at doubling the number of women and “diverse members” of its fellows by 2020. Step one is adding three sets to its current 51-person board of governors. Governors are usually selected from other branches of the Academy, but these new seats will be filled by nominations from the preside (currently Isaacs). After being confirmed by the board, these members will serve three-year terms.
Step two is to bring in new members for its executive committee and board committee. Those two branches are the most active in general Academy governance and membership, so the hope is to give newer members a more prominent role right off the bat.
Step three is launching what they’ve called “an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.” New members traditionally were sponsored by current ones, but Isaccs says the new processes will all the Academy to “lead and not wait for the industry to catch up.”
In addition to altering the membership procedures and makeup, the organization has changed the way voting status works. New members will be granted an initial ten years of voting rights, which will be renewed if that member has remained active in the industry during that period. After receiving three decade-long terms of voting eligibility, or after being nominated for or winning an Oscar, the member will be given lifetime voting privileges. If members do not qualify for voting rights, they will be given emeritus status, meaning the’ll have many member privileges, but will not be allowed to vote.
While none of these changes will impact this year’s Oscar voting, the new standards will be apply to current members retroactively. In a meeting with the board of governors on Thursday evening, all the changes received unanimous approval. Though they will not have an affect on the 2016 Academy Awards, we’ll see what happens in 2017.