Black London Actors Slam Oscar Whitewash And Call For Diversity

By Stuart Black Last edited 36 months ago
Black London Actors Slam Oscar Whitewash And Call For Diversity

The controversy about the absence of filmmakers of colour amid the Oscar nominations rages on, with actors from London spearheading the criticism. Idris Elba and David Oyelowo have both spoken out about the lack of diversity both around this year’s awards and in the film and TV industries in general.

Elba gave a speech at Parliament on Monday imploring the TV and film industries to "think outside the box, and to get outside the box." He said:

"There's a disconnect between the real world and TV world. People in the TV world often aren't the same as people in the real world. And there's an even bigger gap between people who make TV, and people who watch TV. The TV world helps shape the real world. It's also a window on our world. But when we look out the window, none of us live in Downton Abbey. When you don't reflect the real world, too much talent is trashed. Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn't. And talent can't reach opportunity. Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour; it's gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and — most important of all, as far as I'm concerned — diversity of thought."

The TV world helps shape the real world. It's also a window on our world. But when we look out the window, none of us live in Downton Abbey.

Elba has been nominated for a BAFTA as best supporting actor in Beasts Of No Nation, a film that has been in the running at almost every awards ceremony going, but failed to get a single nod from the Academy Awards.

David Oyelowo who was scandalously denied an Oscar nomination in 2014 for his electrifying performance as Martin Luther King in Selma had also been upfront this week about the diversity problem at the Oscars over the last few years, calling for urgent radical reform.

“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.” He went on to point out that it wasn’t for a lack of visibility with among others John Boyega, also from London, headlining the box office behemoth Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

“The reason why the Oscars are so important is because it is the zenith it is the epitome, it is the height of celebration of artistic endeavour within the filmmaking community. We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence. I would like to walk away and say it doesn’t matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in.”

American filmmakers of all colours including Spike Lee, Don Cheadle, Lupita Nyong'o and George Clooney have also thrown their weight behind the criticism of this year’s Oscars with a boycott of the awards now looking possible. Meanwhile, England's David Harewood suggested actors could show their disappointment by turning up in blackface.

Meanwhile, Interstellar actor David Gyasi took a more measured stance, telling Londonist: "In all honesty the truth is that I’m fatigued from the continual discussion regarding the inequalities that still remain throughout my industry. HOWEVER I respect and appreciate the need for action.  My hope is two fold that we will be able to have an honest conversation about who, decides, funds, writes, produces, makes and nominates these films. Ask the question as to how diverse these groups are? My second hope is that we will be able to move through it as swiftly as possible and get to a place where our conversation is purely about the quality and content of the work."

And then coming at the issue from a different angle and missing the point slightly there's Michael Caine. His advice to black actors was: "Be patient. Of course, it will come. Of course, it will come. It took me years to get an Oscar." Seeming to think that all black people were the equivalent of a person, his remarks are ridiculous, though at least they weren't as bad as Charlotte Rampling who's risible comment that the row was "racist to whites" is likely to ensure she doesn't win much this awards season (despite her subsequent attempt to backtrack).

Last Updated 23 January 2016

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