When the red carpets unroll and the spray tans descend on the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards on Sunday, as many as 20 white actors — this year’s crop of acting nominees — will show up to see whether they will win an Oscar. But after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy highlighted the academy’s decision to honor exactly zero black thespians in the acting categories for two years in a row, some big names, invited and not, will be sitting the event out. And some are now making their alternate plans public.
The latest among them: Ava DuVernay — famously passed over for a Best Director nomination for “Selma” last year. DuVernay announced she would spend Oscar night in a place far less glamorous than the Dolby, and perhaps far more relevant to spotlighting racial inequality in America: Flint, Mich., a majority-black city that has been the site of a water crisis.
“Marginalized artists have advocated for Academy change for DECADES,” DuVernay wrote on Twitter last month. “Actual campaigns. Calls voiced FROM THE STAGE. Deaf ears. Closed minds. Whether it’s shame, true feelings, or being dragged kicking + screaming, just get it done. Because the alternative isn’t pretty.”
DuVernay, just announced as the director of Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” said she will join #JusticeForFlint, a “free special event promoting solidarity and support for communities affected by the water crisis,” according to its EventBrite page.
She’ll have company: Comedian and Bill Cosby shamer Hannibal Buress will host, and “Creed” director Ryan Coogler — with DuVernay, a member of Blackout for Human Rights, “a collective of filmmakers, artists, activists and concerned citizens devoting their resources to address the staggering number of human rights violations in the United States” — will also be there.
“With the #JUSTICEFORFLINT benefit event we will give a voice to the members of the community who were the victims of the choices of people in power who are paid to protect them, as well as provide them with a night of entertainment, unity, and emotional healing,” Coogler told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “Through the live stream we will also give a chance for people around the world to participate, and to donate funds to programs for Flint’s youth.” He also said the timing of the event, set for the last weekend of Black History month, was not meant as an Oscar slight.
Coogler’s alternate Oscar plans were nonetheless particularly noteworthy. “Creed,” the latest “Rocky” installment, wasn’t just a critical and commercial hit, but it also was directed by Coogler and starred Michael B. Jordan — two black men. The film’s only Oscar nomination went to Sylvester Stallone, a man not only nominated for playing the same character almost 40 years ago, but one who is also white.
Earlier this month, Stallone said he offered to sit out the ceremony in solidarity, but he was encouraged by Coogler to show.
“I said, ‘If you don’t want me to go, I won’t,'” Stallone said, as the Los Angeles Times reported. “He said, ‘I want you to go.’ That’s the kind of guy he is. He wanted me to stand up for the film.”
Other stars’ plans were unknown. Will Smith — passed over by the academy for his performance in the National Football League scandal film “Concussion” — and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, the high-wattage celebrity couple at the center of #OscarSoWhite, did not appear to be participating in #JUSTICEFORFLINT.
“Is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence that we have amassed, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere?” Jada Pinkett Smith asked in a Facebook video last month.
Will Smith joined her in boycotting the ceremony, then later praised the academy’s attempts to increase diversity: “It’s much more a domestic family issue than it is a civil rights issue. … So it’s a problem that we all have to solve.” (And, at the American Black Film Festival Awards on Sunday, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx joked that Smith should simply “#ActBetter” to get his own statue.)
Jada Pinkett Smith spent time in Flint earlier this month, meeting with the mayor ” to discuss long-term support to help the residents of her city,” as she explained on Twitter.
Though he received an honorary Oscar last year, Spike Lee, meanwhile, will be at a Knicks game.
“I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February,” he wrote on Instagram last month. “We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White?”
Though not a household name, April Reign, managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com credited with creating the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, announced she would be live-tweeting during the Oscars — that is, while watching the 1999 Omar Epps-Taye Diggs film “The Wood.” (Last year, her choice was the 1998 Eddie Murphy classic “Coming to America.”) In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she offered praise — albeit very limited — for the academy’s efforts to increase diversity.
“I’ve spoken about my concern that some of the older academy members still have a vote even though they aren’t active in the film industry and that appears to be addressed,” she said. “The fact that they will be proactively looking for more diverse members is exciting.” But she added: “I would say: ‘Thank you. Thank you for listening. Now, what’s next?’”
One black man, however, will be front and center at the Oscars — and poised to drop a bomb on the ceremony if he chooses. Host Chris Rock, not known to shy away from controversy, has reportedly changed his entire opening monologue to address #OscarsSoWhite. Beyond a tweet that called the Oscars “the White BET Awards,” the comedian’s strategy has yet to emerge.
“Chris is hard at work. He and his writing staff locked themselves in a room,” Academy Awards producer Reginald Hudlin, who is also African American, said last month. “As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, ‘I’m throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show.’”
Correction: An earlier version of this post said Ava Duvernay received an Oscar nomination for Best Director for “Selma.” She did not.