The Academy Award nominations are bringing yet another blizzard of homogeneity this year, with all-white stars across all acting categories. The lack of minority representation sparked the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, and a whole flurry of outrage, ranging from a Saturday Night Live lampoon, an emotional spoken-word poem, a chorus of critics and a boycott from A-Listers Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Spike Lee, among others.
Oscar host Chris Rock is reportedly re-writing his entire opening monologue, hopefully to “Ricky Gervais them” (as WGBH Arts Editor Jared Bowen put it) and save the Oscars from being a complete (white) wash. The Reverends Emmett G. Price III and Irene Monroe joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio for their regular Monday feature, All Revved Up. “It’s going to be hilarious,” Price said. “Their viewership is going to be exponentially larger, Chris Rock...is going to make so much to-do about this really big situation.”
“It’s just his ballgame,” Monroe said. “I have to tell you, though, I was really hoping that some of our white (and actors of color) would also be boycotting—particularly white actors and actresses who say they have African-American friends, or friends of color, and children. I thought that —other than Michael Moore— that many more would be boycotting this.”
This Oscar’s ceremony marks the second year in a row with an all-white cast of 20 acting nominees. “Two blizzards,” Monroe said. Or, as Price put it, “a perfect storm.”
According to Monroe, the diversity problem within the Oscars reflects a bigger issue with the system in Hollywood. “Viola Davis got an award,” Monroe said, “and she said the only difference between white women and women of color is opportunities. You can’t win an Emmy if there are no roles for you.”
“I'm going to be totally honest with you, I completely deserve this. I have against the odds, courageously pioneered the art of writing for people of color as if they were human beings. I’ve bravely gone around just casting parts for actors who were the best ones. I fearlessly faced down ABC when they completely agreed with me that Olivia Pope should be black. And I raised my sword heroically and then put it down again when Paul Lee never fought me about any of my storytelling choices.”
There’s an odd cycle, according to Price, where the people who are directly affected by the whitewashing aren’t invited in the first place. “You have this kind of systematic issue,” Price said. “The same old folks get invited to the party. This is the funny part about the boycott—how can you boycott something you’re not invited to?”
It starts in many other facets, Monroe says, beyond just the cast of actors themselves. “We need more screenwriters,” she said. “We need more writers in various genres of this industry.”
The solution to the problem is often skewed, Price says. People of color are not looking for handouts. “There’s this sense that whoever is boycotting is asking for a quota system, and that’s not the issue,” Price said. “The issue is, if these are the individuals who deserve the recognition, and deserve to be nominated, hooray, cheers for them. The issue is also that those individuals who win Oscars get to be picked first for the next movies, and those producers get to be picked first for the financing. Those screenwriters get their scripts picked first, and so that creates this disparity, which becomes systemic.”
“To see this blizzard,” Monroe said, “...to be quite honest, this year, if I was one of those white nominees, I would be somewhat embarrassed. It seems like a lineup of a crime called white supremacy.”
To hear All Revved Up, click the audio link above. Rev. Emmett G. Price III is a professor of music at Northeastern University, and the author of The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture. Rev. Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist who writes for Huffington Post and Bay Windows.