[Ed. note: The headline of this article has been altered slightly to best reflect the timing of this interview.]
When the Academy released its list of nominees for the 2016 Oscars on January 14, the resulting Twitter outrage echoed last year’s sentiment: #OscarsSoWhite. For the second consecutive year, all 20 nominees in the major acting categories were white, despite standout performances from Will Smith (“Concussion”), Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”) and Jason Mitchell (“Straight Outta Compton“). In fact, aside from a nomination for Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu for “The Revenant,” people of color were entirely absent from acting and directing nominations.
Last year, activist and writer April Reign created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag on Twitter to express her disapproval with the 2015 Oscar nominations, and it quickly took off, becoming so popular that host Neil Patrick Harris even opened his monologue that year with a joke about the whiteness of the night’s event. However, this year, #OscarsSoWhite is more than a hashtag; it’s a movement — and stars like Jada Pinkett Smith and director Spike Lee are taking a stand against Hollywood’s institutionalized diversity problem.
Following the #OscarsSoWhite backlash, both Smith and Lee announced that they will be boycotting this year’s Academy Awards. That same day, “Straight Outta Compton” producer Will Packer took to Facebook to express his frustration with his fellow Academy voters.
“To my Academy colleagues, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. Period. The reason the rest of the world looks at us like we have no clue is because in 2016 it’s a complete embarrassment to say that the heights of cinematic achievement have only been reached by white people. I repeat — it’s embarrassing.”
However, Packer also pointed to the deep-seeded root of the issue: the lack of roles for people of color both in front of and behind the camera. “We need more content produced by, written by, directed by and featuring filmmakers and actors of color being given the greenlight,” he said.
Of course, lack of diversity in Oscar nominations has long been the status quo — white men have dominated Hollywood since its inception, after all — but the whitewashed noms are even more glaring when you see that critically acclaimed films like “Straight Outta Compton” and “Creed” were left out.
However, both films scored nominations for their white actors and screenwriters. “Creed”’s Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, while “Straight Outta Compton”’s screenwriting duo Jon Herman and Andrea Berloff were nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
“It’s going to take time, but that said, my hope is that based on the success of ’Compton,’ studios and financiers will start to see that these movies can make a ton of money and can be super successful,” Berloff told MTV News following her Oscar nomination last Thursday afternoon. “We have to start making more movies in order to get more movies nominated. It can’t just be one a year. We really have to open up the conversation. This movie made a lot of money, and there are many other diverse stories out there — and it’s time to tell them.”
Sure, “Straight Outta Compton” made a lot of money, but it also deeply affected audiences across the country, moviegoers and critics alike. After the N.W.A. biopic scored critical nominations from the Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild, it seemed like a shoo-in to be among this year’s best picture nominees. So why was it shut out of the Academy’s top category? A closer investigation from EW revealed that many Academy voters, who are markedly less diverse than they should be (i.e. old, white and male) just didn’t see the movie.
“Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray understands why his film didn’t click with everyone, telling MTV News ahead of the nominations, “Some people just don’t get it.”
“We’re happy to be where we are,” Gray said, while promoting the Jan. 19 Blu-ray release of “Straight Outta Compton” just before last week’s Oscar noms. “When you develop ’Straight Outta Compton,’ you just want to stay true and you want it to be authentic, and some people just don’t get it. It’s a very specific experience. It’s harsh to some, but it’s very real.”
“We’ve had a ton of nominations, and the awards are coming in — just from different places,” Gray added. “To a certain extent, like Cube says, it’s all gravy from here.”
When asked about last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Gray, a member of the Academy himself, said that he doesn’t believe the institution is out of touch. Rather, change is a gradual process, and according to Gray, the Academy has been taking the necessary steps to make the Oscars a more diverse representation of Hollywood.
“Cheryl Boone Isaacs, she’s running the show over there, and I gotta say that I’m happy about the shift that’s happening,” Gray said. “Like most changes, it doesn’t happen overnight. Common, he’s part of the Academy, and he’s won an Academy Award, so I think that we’re going in the right direction. Will it happen overnight? Probably not.”
We wonder if he still stands by that sentiment now.