#OscarsSoWhite creator, a Maryland resident, reignites conversation about Hollywood diversity
By BRITTANY BRITTO
The Baltimore Sun|
Jan 21, 2016 | 4:57 PM
April Reign, a former Howard County resident and managing editor of the website Broadway Black, has once again brought one of Hollywood's most debated issues to light — all with a 13-letter hashtag.
Reign, who has lived in Maryland for over 20 years and would only say that she now lives "north of D.C." in the state, created the “#OscarsSoWhite” hashtag on Twitter in January 2015 out of frustration and disappointment after learning that all of the 87th Academy Award acting nominees were white.
Reign first tweeted last year, “#oscarssowhite they asked to touch my hair.” The hashtag went viral within a week, Reign said.
“There were a lot of jokes and memes and funny tweets and postings on other social media as well,” said Reign. It allowed her and her followers to get "down to business to talk about the lack of inclusion."
Now, the hashtag heard around the world is making new waves.
This year, all 20 acting Oscar nominees are again white, despite critically and commercially acclaimed movies with diverse casts, Reign said.
“Creed,” a continuation of “Rocky” films, stars African-American actor Michael B. Jordan as the lead, yet Sylvester Stallone, who returns as his Rocky character, was the only one nominated for an award, for best supporting actor.
“Straight Outta Compton,” a biopic about rap group N.W.A, also saw critical and commercial success. The movie, which made a little more than $200 million at the box office, had a diverse cast and was nominated for best screenplay, but all the writers are white, Reign noted.
“Even if those movies win in a respective category, it’s not people of color that are standing onstage,” Reign said.
So when the 88th Academy Award nominees were announced on Jan. 14, Reign knew that people were waiting for her to say (or tweet) something, and yet again, "#OscarsSoWhite" reemerged as a trending topic on Twitter and other social networks.
“There was a resurgence because things have not been resolved. There’s still a lot more to be done,” she said.
This time, celebrities and film enthusiasts joined Reign in taking their frustration to the Internet.
Baltimore native and actress Jada Pinkett Smith and filmmaker Spike Lee were among those who spoke out. On Monday, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Smith posted a video to her Facebook page announcing that she would not watch or attend this year’s Oscars. She encouraged others to take action and “let the Oscars do them.”
“The Academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose, to invite whomever they choose, and now, I think it is our responsibility now to make the change,” Smith said in the video. “Maybe it is time that we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities.”
Her husband, actor and star of “Concussion,” Will Smith, has also announced that he will not be in attendance. And Mark Ruffalo, nominated for best supporting actor for his role in "Spotlight," has voiced his support of the boycott despite his plans to attend the awards.
“I’m very encouraged by the fact that Hollywood is standing up and taking notice,” Reign said. While she hasn’t been in contact with the Academy or actors directly, she is confident that “the hashtag is making a difference in Hollywood, slowly but surely.”
Last year’s Oscars had the lowest viewership since 2009, and last summer, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy’s first African-American president, invited more than 300 new members of various ages, races and backgrounds to the group in hopes of improving representation in the film world. Isaacs released a statement this week saying she was "heartbroken" about the lack of diversity in this year's nominees.
But the issue is not as “black and white” as Reign said many of her critics may think.
“This issue reflects the lack of diversity of people of color and all marginalized communities, including [people of different] genders, the differently-abled and indigenous people,” Reign said.
Instead of watching last year’s award show, Reign live-tweeted comedy flick “Coming to America” starring comedian Eddie Murphy — a choice that she said was made with precision.
“It has a predominately black cast, but it resonates with everyone, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation,” Reign said.
This year, Reign's boycott and what she refers to as her "counterprogramming" will return, but it will be bigger and better, she said, without divulging details.
“We are suggesting that people register their concern and their frustration with the lack of diversity and inclusion not with only their dollars, but also with their viewership and their ratings,” Reign said. “If you’re concerned about this issue and you think things can change, don’t watch the Oscars.”