Al Sharpton Led the Oscars Protest You Didn’t See on TV

The civil rights leader skewered the awards show hours before Chris Rock took the stage.
Al Sharpton, center, speaking at an Oscars protest in Hollywood on Feb. 28. (Photo: Jennifer Swann)
Feb 29, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Two blocks from the red carpet, where celebrities posed for photos ahead of the Academy Awards, Rev. Al Sharpton stood in a strip-mall stairwell and raised into the air a miniature Oscar statuette painted white. “When you give out the Oscars tonight, you should give out white Oscars,” he said, directing his comments toward the Academy, “because that’s who decided who was going to win tonight.”

It was just after 2 p.m. on Sunday, and Sharpton had commanded dozens of protesters to send a message of disapproval on Hollywood’s biggest night of the year. Singing, dancing, and marching in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard, the activists carried signs bearing slogans such as “Shame on you,” “Studios must greenlight diversity,” and “We demand opportunity.”

The rally, organized through Sharpton’s civil rights organization, National Action Network, was part of a series of protests held that day in seven cities across the country in response to the Academy Awards’ acting nominations, all of which went to white actors for the second year in a row. The controversy prompted Oscars host Chris Rock and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs to address the issue of diversity in Hollywood during the awards show Sunday night.

“We want opportunity,” Rock said during his opening monologue. “We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it.”

But ahead of the ceremony, Sharpton warned that it would “be the last night of an all-white Oscars.” He named a number of movies that starred black actors last year, including Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation, and Concussion. Of those movies, only Straight Outta Compton was nominated in any Oscars category—for an original screenplay penned by white writers. “We’re not saying who must win, but if you’ve been locked out of the process, then you are dealing with a systemic problem of exclusion,” Sharpton said.

Molly Bell, a community activist based in Compton, California, who introduced herself to the crowd as being “straight outta Compton,” said she’d come to the protest to agitate the industry and demand that black actors be recognized. “First of all, since we pay, then we need to have a say, don’t you agree?” she told the group, suggesting that the minorities who purchase movie tickets help create profits for the industry, yet their stories still aren’t reflected on the big screen. “We want you to know that we are more than just the ticket buyers,” she said.

She also acknowledged that the issue of diversity in cinema may seem minor when compared with the issue of police violence or lead poisoning in the black community, for example. “People say, ‘Well, what about Flint?’ We haven’t forgotten about Flint. ‘What about Black Lives Matter?’ We haven’t forgotten about Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We haven’t forgotten about that, but we are here today.”

Sharpton said his coalition will continue to expand and mobilize nationwide and that if the problem continues next year, they will specifically target the advertisers who spend money on commercials during the Oscars broadcast. “Tonight, we’ve come to send you your eviction notice,” he said. “The marshals will be coming.”

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.