Calls for boycott over diversity throw Oscars into turmoil

NEW YORK – Growing calls for a boycott of the Academy Awards over the lack of diversity among this year’s Oscar nominees are forcing stars to choose sides and threatening to throw the movie industry’s biggest night of the year into turmoil.

The backlash over the second straight year of all-white acting nominees is also putting heavy pressure on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to diversify its overwhelmingly white male membership.

The furor grew on Tuesday when the Rev. Al Sharpton said he would lead a campaign encouraging people not to watch the Feb. 28 telecast. On Monday, Spike Lee, this year’s Oscar honoree for lifetime achievement, and Jada Pinkett Smith announced they will boycott the ceremony in protest.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has led efforts to diversify the academy, responded late Monday evening with a forceful statement saying that those previous measures weren’t enough.

Isaacs, the academy’s first African American president, said that “it’s time for big changes” and that she will review membership recruiting to bring about “much-need diversity” in the academy’s ranks.

At a Los Angeles gala honoring Boone Isaacs on Monday night, actor David Oyelowo – who was famously snubbed last year for his performance as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma” – expressed frustration with the academy.

“This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room,” Oyelowo said. “I am an academy member and it doesn’t reflect me and it doesn’t reflect this nation.”

Other stars began weighing in. George Clooney, in comments to Variety, said that after earlier progress by the industry, “you feel like we’re moving in the wrong direction.” He noted that movies like “Creed,” ”Straight Outta Compton,” ”Beasts of No Nation” and “Concussion” may have deserved more attention from the academy.

“But honestly, there should be more opportunity than that,” Clooney said. “There should be 20 or 30 or 40 films of the quality that people would consider for the Oscars. By the way, we’re talking about African Americans. For Hispanics, it’s even worse. We need to get better at this. We used to be better at it.”