Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith both announced on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that neither will be attending the 2016 Academy Awards due to the lack of any non-white nominees for the second year in a row.
“It’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be head of a studio, or be head of a network," Lee said in November 2015 at the Academy's Governor's Ball, according to the Atlantic. On Jan. 18, he announced via Instagram that he would be boycotting the awards ceremony.
Echoing Lee's call for a boycott, Smith released a Facebook video on the same day in which she argued, "Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power, and we are a dignified people and we are powerful."
The boycott is understandable and justified, and is already turning heads inside the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who are open to change.
2015 saw the release of a slew of critically-acclaimed films with prominent black lead actors, such as "Creed," "Straight Outta Compton," Lee's "Chi-Raq," and Sean Baker's "Tangerine." "Straight Outta Compton" is ironically the only one of these movies which has even garnered one nomination, and that is for writing.
While no one would argue that any one of these films should be nominated for an Academy Award in any particular category "just because," the fact that three to four movies which were acknowledged by most film critics to be among 2015's best films gained only one critical nod collectively is a head-scratcher.
Perhaps the films with black actors and actresses simply were not among the best films in 2015. But that line of thought becomes a lot more difficult to justify if one tries to extrapolate it across the span of, say, two decades.
There is something more than a little unsettling about the fact that when films with black actors/characters do get nominated, such as "12 Years A Slave" or "The Help," they are usually for period pieces depicting rough moments of African-American history or biographical films, CNN notes.
The protest from Lee and Smith seems to have already gotten results.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy's president, responded on the night of Jan. 18 that the organization would pursue "dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership," NBC reports.
Isaacs, who is black, wrote on the Academy's Twitter page: "I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it's time for big changes."
Whether you agree with Lee and Smith or not, the response from the Academy has acknowledged and elevated their arguments about the ceremony. Whether or not the response is real or simply damage control remains to be seen.