The video is obviously homemade, slightly wobbling as Jada Pinkett Smith, dressed casually in a red blouse and blue jeans, sits on a couch in a dimly lit room, calmly and intellectually breaking down why she won’t attend this year’s Oscars.
“Maybe it’s time that we recognize that if we love and respect and acknowledge ourselves in the way in which we are asking others to do, that is the place of true power,” she says. “The academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose, to invite whomever they choose, and now it’s our responsibility now to make the change. Maybe it’s time that we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities, into our programs, and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit, that are just as good as the so-called mainstream ones.”
The video, posted to Facebook and retweeted on Twitter with the words “We must stand in our power” was specifically timed for MLK Day. And now, Mrs. Smith’s words have become a rallying social media cry, echoing the trending hashtag #OscarsSoWhite that criticizes Hollywood’s lack of award-show diversity. Cosigned by a powerful, digital Black movement, at press time the video has over 7.6 million views and 200,000 likes.
Director Spike Lee publicly joins Jada in boycotting. Which comes as no surprise, since Lee has a long-time reputation for criticizing Hollywood. But over the past several years, Pinkett Smith has popped up in headlines promoting community work in campaigns from fighting sex trafficking, to stopping violence in her hometown of Baltimore, and donating funds to support last year’s 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. Now she’s become the biggest of Black Hollywood’s elite to speak out against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ repeated history of overlooking Black talent.
Many believe her husband Will Smith should have been nominated this year for his role in Concussion, along with Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan for Creed, Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation and Jason Mitchell for Straight Outta Compton (which received a best screenplay nomination for its two White screenwriters, and according to director John Singleton, should have gotten more).
“I do think Straight Outta Compton could have been nominated for best picture,” said Singleton, after a series of quotes in an interview with Variety strangely defended the Academy’s whitewashed list of nominees. “There’s only so many slots, though… There are a couple of movies that may have [warranted attention] but … It’s all subjective. It’s almost like the lottery.”
False. The Oscars is like a homecoming popularity contest. Nominations are made by a body of industry voters, estimated to be 93% White, with an average age of 63. To win an Academy Award, nominees have to be “liked” by putting in awards-season work of shaking the most hands, wearing the best outfits, and gaining the hottest buzz through hardcore marketing and press campaigns.
When Black social media criticized Singleton over his questionable quotes, he quickly clarified his comments on Instagram. “Let me make one thing clear… When I speak on a subject, my views are my own. I don’t comment on any view for attention or to be accepted,” he wrote. “This morning an article appeared in Variety about the controversy of this year’s Oscars and no Black nominees… The uproar is valid.”
He added, “To folks that want to boycott the Oscars, that is a valid position to have… The real fight I think is to support each other as artists and a collective to make more films… It seems Black folks in Hollywood rally when something like this happens, but when young filmmakers need to be supported…. New visions need to be financed and discovered. Everyone is looking for support…. Let’s have solidarity in terms of doing good work and supporting each other as artists… That’s what I bang on.”
True. But solidarity also comes in supporting movements to make change. When someone like Jada Pinkett Smith bravely speaks out and says what we all know is true, we should stand with her. “Begging for acknowledgement or even asking diminishes dignity and diminishes power and we are a dignified people. We are powerful and let’s not forget it,” she said. “So let the Academy do them, with all grace and love, and let’s do us differently.”
Anyone who agrees with this, especially the rest of Black Hollywood’s elite, should join Jada and publicly speak out. Not just once a year, in January, when Oscar time comes. Not because she asked people to join her and it’s a hot topic. But because it makes the point of the protest more powerful. Because sustained, united voices carry more strength.
Sure, this video may have been prompted just because Will Smith didn’t get nominated. Would Jada’s awakening have happened if her husband had been given a nod? Maybe not. But this isn’t a psychic reading or a resentful Janet Hubert video post. This piece focuses on facts. And Jada’s truth—no matter when she accepted it—is deeper than a heavy Hollywood trophy when she asks, “Have we now come to a new time and place where we recognize that we can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgement or respect of any group?”
Yes. The voting body of the Academy isn’t changing anytime soon. Until then, their actions will reflect the age-old “main”stream narrative: If it ain’t White, it ain’t right.
So in the meantime, we take a proactive approach. We fight, protest, call them out, reprogram more brains to wake up, create, and stand behind works for us, by us. When it comes to Hollywood, this means supporting events like Black film festivals and award shows, movies with Black casts and Black directors, stories written by Black writers. “Support” is a verb, an action that in this case means spending money.
We are the people who built America, a formerly enslaved people who now have a current estimated buying power of $1.1 trillion. We can absolutely pool our resources, create our own programs, networks, and grow wealth together as a people so we no longer need the powers that be. Solidarity is the starting key.