From Backlash To Boycotts: A Complete Timeline Of The 2016 Oscars Diversity Controversy


What is going on with this year’s Academy Awards?

Since the Oscar nominees were announced less than two weeks ago — nominees that, for the second year running, did not include a single actor or actress of color — there has been a passionate conversation on the awards, and the lack of diversity therein, in the film industry. There have been boycotts and backlashes to the boycotts; a revival of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, created by April Reign; a pledge by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to change the way it selects its members and chooses nominees; and support for and criticism of said pledge, with some applauding the action as overdue and vital and others claiming that the current AMPAS practices are sacrosanct and any amendment with the goal of increasing diversity is “racist to whites.” So many #hottakes, so few hours in the day to keep up with them all and still have to time to actually see any of the movies.

For your consideration, here is this year’s complete #OscarsSoWhite timeline. Keep checking back to stay up-to-speed on the commentary on the controversy; this page will be updated through February 28, the night of the Academy Awards.

Thursday, January 14

The Academy Award nominees are announced. For the second year in a row, zero actors of color receive acting nominations.


● The Best Actor nominees are Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), and Matt Damon (The Martian). The Best Actress nominees are Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn).

● In the supporting categories, Best Supporting Actor nominees are Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed), and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight). The Best Supporting Actress nominees are Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight).

● Almost immediately, #OscarsSoWhite starts trending on Twitter, a re-up of Reign’s protest. Her hashtag has become internet shorthand for dismay at the lack of diversity among Academy Award nominees.

Monday, January 18

● Spike Lee, who directed 2015’s Chi-Raq, which did not receive any Oscar nominations, announces on Instagram that he will be boycotting the Academy Awards. (Lee won an honorary Oscar last fall and has been nominated previously, for Do the Right Thing and 4 Little Girls.) In his post, Lee writes that he and his wife “Cannot Support” the awards. “How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White?” He quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. — on the national holiday in King’s honor — and the musical Hamilton (“I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS”) to say “The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White.”


● Jada Pinkett Smith posts a video on Facebook announcing that she would boycott the year’s festivities. (She does not mention Lee or the fact that her husband, Will, was eligible for his performance in Concussion but did not get a nomination.) “The Academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose, to invite whomever they choose,” she says. “Begging for acknowledgment, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power. And we are a dignified people. And we are powerful.”

● At the King Legacy Awards, where Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs is being honored, actor David Oyelowo (who played Martin Luther King, Jr. in last year’s Selma but did not receive an Oscar nomination for his performance) speaks about his Selma experience and why the Oscars matter for artists. After the 2015 Academy Awards, Oyelowo says, he met with Isaacs and “had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.” Brushing off the Oscars as frivolous is not an option, he says: “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 endeavor within the filmmaking community…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.”

● In the evening, Isaacs issues a statement. She writes, “I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes… the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly.”

Tuesday, January 19

● During a radio interview with Angie Martinez, Ice Cube is asked if he believes he hurt Straight Outta Compton’s Oscar chances by not “playing the Hollywood game.” He replies: “I do what I’m supposed to do to promote the project. I ain’t gonna kiss no ass for nothing. Maybe that is the problem, or maybe we should have put a slave in Straight Outta Compton. I think that’s where we messed up.” The Academy, though, “does not define us. That award is cool — it’s cool to be recognized — but people recognized this movie back in August when it did $200 million at the box office.” (For context: In 2013, 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture at the Oscars, and Lupita Nyong’o, who played a slave in the film, took home Best Supporting Actress.)

● George Clooney gives a statement to Variety decrying how Hollywood and the Academy are “moving in the wrong direction.” “I would also make the argument, I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is: How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films?” He also addresses the limited opportunities for women in film: “I find it amazing that we’re an industry that in the 1930s, most of our leads were women. And now a woman over 40 has a very difficult time being a lead in a movie.” Even though he lists four films this year that could have earned more nominations — Creed, Concussion, Beasts of No Nation, and Straight Outta Compton — he insists that “there should be more opportunity than that. 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.”

Wednesday, January 20

The New York Times reports that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce “measures aimed at making its Oscar choices more diverse.” Possible actions include nominating 10 films for Best Picture and increasing the number of acting nominees, from five per category to eight or 10.

Thursday, January 21

● In an interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America, Will Smith joins his wife’s boycott of the Academy Awards. “We’re part of this community. But at this current time, we’re uncomfortable to stand there and say this is okay… For my part, I think I have to protect and fight for the ideals that make our country and make our Hollywood community great. So when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it’s not reflecting that beauty.” He denies that Jada’s video, or his support of it, is a bitter reaction to the fact that Smith was not nominated this year: “This is so deeply not about me.”


● Mark Ruffalo, nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Spotlight, the film about the Boston Globe investigative team behind the Pulitzer Prize-winning expose on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, tells the BBC he is “weighing” whether or not to attend the Academy Awards. “I woke up in the morning thinking, what is the right way to do this? Because if you look at Martin Luther King’s legacy, what he was saying was, the good people who don’t act are much worse than the people, the wrongdoers that are purposely not acting and don’t know the right way.” The Oscars, he says, are not the only culprit: “The entire American system is rife with a kind of white privileged racism that goes into our justice system.”

● Later that day, Ruffalo amends his opinion on Twitter, confirming that he will attend this year’s ceremony “in support of the victims of clergy Sexual Abuse and good journalism.” He still supports the boycott, though, and adds “I hope the Oscar Ban movement opens the way for my peers to open their hearts to the #BlackLivesMatter movement as well.”

Friday, January 22

● The AMPAS announces major changes to increase the diversity of its membership. The amendments, approved at a special board of governors meeting on Thursday night, were unanimously endorsed, save for potential changes to Oscar balloting (that conversation was shelved for later). The goal: Double the number of female and minority members by 2020. Arguably the biggest change is a new voting requirement: Voting status must be reviewed every decade, and can be revoked for members who have not been active in the film business for 10 years. After three 10-year terms, members get lifetime voting rights. Anyone who has ever won or been nominated for an Oscar will also have lifetime voting rights. Ava DuVernay, Selma director, tweeted that the letter was “one good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color + women artists.”

● In an interview with French radio network Europe 1, nominee Charlotte Rampling says the backlash to the all-white acting nominees is “is racist to whites.” She says: “One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list,” Rampling added, and when asked if there should be a quota system (which no one has suggested), she responded: “Why classify people? These days everyone is more or less accepted … People will always say: ‘Him, he’s less handsome’; ‘Him, he’s too black’; ‘He is too white’ … someone will always be saying ‘You are too’ [this or that] … But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?”

Michael Caine tells Radio 4 Today that black actors need to “be patient.” Oscar nominations “will come. It took me years to get an Oscar, years.” He also says “There’s loads of black actors. In the end you can’t vote for an actor because he’s black. You can’t say ‘I’m going to vote for him, he’s not very good, but he’s black, I’ll vote for him’.” (He allows that Idris Elba was “wonderful” in Beasts of No Nation.)

● At Sundance, two-time screenwriting Oscar nominee Julie Delpy tells The Wrap that it is more difficult to be a woman than to be black in the film industry. “Two years ago, I said something about the Academy being very white male, which is the reality, and I was slashed to pieces by the media. It’s funny — women can’t talk. I sometimes wish I were African-American because people don’t bash them afterward. It’s the hardest to be a woman. Feminists [are] something people hate above all. Nothing worse than being a woman in this business. I really believe that.”

Ice Cube goes on The Graham Norton Show, where he says he won’t really be boycotting the Oscars, because “You can’t boycott something that you never went to anyway. I look at it as a horse race… It’s nothing to really put that much energy into. We don’t do movies for the industry. We do movies for the fans, for the people. The industry, if they give you a trophy or not… it’s nice, but it’s not something that you should dwell on.”

Saturday, January 23

● At the 47th NAACP Image Awards Nominee Luncheon, Academy Awards producer Reginald Hudlin tells Entertainment Tonight that host Chris Rock is not dropping out but is instead “writing a new show” that will include #OscarsSoWhite jokes. “Yes, the Academy is ready for him to do that,” says Hudlin. “They’re excited about him doing that. They know that’s what we need. They know that’s what the public wants, and we deliver what the people want.”

● Julie Delpy apologizes for the way in which she “expressed [her]self.” As she tells Entertainment Weekly, “It was never meant to diminish the injustice done to African American artists or to any other people that struggle for equal opportunities and rights, on the contrary. All I was trying to do is to address the issues of inequality of opportunity in the industry for women as well (as I am a woman). I never intended to underestimate anyone else’s struggle! We should stay alert and united and support each other to change this unfair reality and don’t let anyone sabotage our common efforts by distorting the truth.”

Saturday Night Live chimes in on controversy with the sketch “Screen Guild Awards,” in which white actors are nominated for increasingly small, pointless supporting roles in predominately black films.

Sunday, January 24

● At a Sundance Film Festival event, DuVernay says she hates the word “diversity” because “I feel it’s a medicinal word that has no emotional resonance, and this is a really emotional issue. It’s emotional for artists who are women and people of color to have less value placed on our worldview.” “Inclusion” or “belonging” would be better, she says: “There’s a belonging problem in Hollywood. Who dictates who belongs? The very body who dictates that looks all one way.” She expresses support for the recently-announced changes the AMPAS plans to implement. “Change has to happen, it has to happen with the people who dictate who belongs. It’s disconcerting to hear people say that shouldn’t change. That’s the very reason it should.”

● On CBS’ Sunday Morning, Rampling clarifies her comments about the Oscars and diversity: “I regret that my comments could have been misinterpreted this week in my interview with Europe 1 Radio. I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration. I am very honored to be included in this year’s wonderful group of nominated actors and actresses. Diversity in our industry is an important issue that needs to be addressed. I am highly encouraged by the changes announced today by the Academy to diversify its membership.”

● Steve McQueen, the only black director to have ever won an Oscar for Best Picture (for 12 Years a Slave), tells The Guardian he hopes that “in 12 months or so we can look back and say this was a watershed moment, and thank God we put that right.” But the issue, he stresses, is systemic, and the AMPAS is just one part of the problem. “One could talk about percentages of certain people who are Academy members and the demographics and so forth, but the real issue is movies being made. Decisions being made by heads of studios, TV companies and cable companies about what is and is not being made. That is the start. That is the root of the problem.”

Monday, January 25

● At the launch of BFI Presents Shakespeare on Film, Ian McKellan tells Sky News that he “fully sympathize[s]” with those who say the Oscars need to be more inclusive. “It’s not only black people who’ve been disregarded by the film industry, it used to be women, it’s certainly gay people to this day.” He speaks to The Guardian about the issue as well: “If you are trying to have a career, as a black or Hispanic actor in a state — California — where white people are now the minority, and you are being judged by an Academy where the vast majority are white, male, middle-aged and old … well, perhaps that is the wrong yardstick.” He believes the Academy discriminates against the LGBT community too. “No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar; I wonder if that is prejudice or chance.”

● The AMPAS posts information about the new rule changes for members. The guidelines, shared as a “Frequently Asked Questions” page, clarify that members can only be members for life if they work on at least one film in three separate 10-year periods. The periods do not have to be consecutive. Those who do not qualify don’t get kicked out of the Academy; they are granted “emeritus status” instead, which allows all the benefits of memberships except voting. “We want the Oscars to be voted on by people who are currently working in motion pictures,” the guidelines read. “Voting for the Oscars is a privilege of membership, not a right.”

● The point of the reform is to make sure that the members who vote are “active in motion pictures.” How, exactly, does one define “active”? Subjectively! Members have to be working on “the same kinds of quality films that got you into the academy in the first place.” Peers in a member’s respective branch will make that determination, and their decision will be subject to appeal.

● Other changes aimed at increasing diversity in the ranks: The Academy is creating three new government seats to be filled by women and people of color. Those individuals will be nominated by the president and voted on by the board. The AMPAS “will be actively recruiting new members,” adding non-governor seats to the six board committees “that oversee all Academy activity,” as well as instating reforms in the executive committees which decide who gets an invite for membership. In response to what the AMPAS anticipates will be a common question — “But why lower standards to get new members?” — they reply: “We are not lowering any standards, we’re widening our net.”

Tuesday, January 26

● At Sundance, Danny Glover tells Variety suggests that “maybe we should do away with” awards shows, including the Oscars. “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. [But] I don’t see diversity in film in the world at all anymore.”

Wednesday, January 27

President Obama weighs in on the controversy during an interview with Los Angeles TV affiliate KABC. “I think that California is an example of the incredible diversity of this country. That’s a strength. I think that when everybody’s story is told, then that makes for better art, it makes for better entertainment, it makes everybody feel part of one American family,” he said. “As a whole, the industry should do what every other industry should do, which is to look for talent, and provide opportunity to everybody. I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue of are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot.”

● Isaacs, along with AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson, give an hour-long interview to The Hollywood Reporter for the magazine’s cover story. They explain the reasoning behind the changes to the Academy rules and talk about the role they believe the Academy plays in the film industry. As for allegations that the AMPAS caved to “political correctness, Hudson says, “The Academy is tradition-bound, it is rule-bound, it is not trying to be politically correct, never has been. We are an elite institution… We are the best of the best in the film industry. We don’t feel that we have looked far and wide enough for the best of the best. It’s not about political correctness, it’s about building the best team, the best institution, the best artists. Because unless you have the best artists as members, unless you have the best artists voting on the Academy Awards, you don’t have a real reflection of the best of our film culture.”