David Oyelowo Blasts Oscar Voters as Academy Boss Pledges Change

At an event on Monday night, the actor called it 'unforgivable' that no actors of color were recognized by the Academy this year.

Actor David Oyelowo; Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. (Photos: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images; Unique Nicole/Getty Images)

Jan 19, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

After David Oyelowo was snubbed by the Oscars last year for his lauded performance as Martin Luther King Jr. in best picture nominee Selma, he inadvertently became the face of the Academy's diversity problem. The perceived slight sparked an intense social media backlash and drew criticism from Selma director Ava DuVernay and Oyelowo, who accused the Academy of only recognizing black actors in "subservient" roles.

A year later, Oyelowo again took the Academy to task for failing for the second time in a row to nominate any performers of color in any of its acting categories. In a Monday-night gala speech that evoked the Voting Rights Act and the Selma march, the British actor called it "unforgivable" that the Academy missed "20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color," according to The Hollywood Reporter. He delivered the remarks while presenting Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs with an award at the King Legacy Awards Gala in Los Angeles on the anniversary of King's birthday.

RELATED: How the Academy Plans to Fix Hollywood's Diversity Problem

"This institution doesn't reflect its president and it doesn't reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn't reflect me, and it doesn't reflect this nation," Oyelowo said. The Academy made efforts to diversify its membership last year, following a 2012 L.A. Times investigation that revealed that Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent white, with black voters accounting for 2 percent of the Academy and Latinos comprising less than 2 percent. By comparison, African Americans account for more than 15 percent of the U.S. population, and Latinos make up about 17 percent.

Not only that, but movies with black actors in the leads are carrying the box office, Oyelowo pointed out, though that's not reflected in the Oscar nominations. "We have a situation whereby currently the biggest movie in the world and of all time is led by a black man," Oyelowo said, citing fellow British actor John Boyega's starring role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. "The film was knocked off the top spot this weekend by a film led by two black men, Ride Along 2," Oyelowo said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Oyelowo's comments came the same day that filmmaker Spike Lee and actor Jada Pinkett Smith announced plans to boycott the Oscars ceremony. In a Facebook video that has garnered more than 9 million views, Smith suggested that communities of color would be better served divesting their resources from the mainstream entertainment industry than "begging for acknowledgment" from the Academy. Pinkett Smith's husband, Will Smith, was not nominated for his role in Concussion—nor were actors Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation or Samuel L. Jackson for The Hateful Eight.

Oyelowo offered a counterargument by emphasizing the continued importance of Hollywood's most prestigious awards show, for better or for worse. "We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence," he said. "I would like to walk away and say it doesn't matter, but it does, because that acknowledgment changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in."

Isaacs also issued a statement on Monday in which she declared she was "heartbroken and frustrated" by the Academy's failure to recognize the achievements of actors of color. "The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership," she wrote. "In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond."
TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, is a partner on Beasts of No Nation, as well as on Oscar-nominated films Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, and The Look of Silence.