Chris Rock is THE greatest comedian of all time, followed by Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Bernie Mac, Dave Chappelle and in that order. My mum took me to see Chris Rock at The Apollo. It was the Hammersmith Apollo, but an Apollo nonetheless and my love for him flourished like a rose in bloom. I grew up on Def Jam Comedy DVD Box Sets, OK? My mum and I love to laugh and Chris Rock has always and will always deliver. I know without a shadow of a doubt that tonight Christopher Julius Rock The Third will bring the house down at the Kodak Theatre and this is why I am heartbroken that I have chosen to boycott the 88th Academy Awards.
I have known since my 17th birthday that I was going to win an Academy Award. My mum knows it (doesn’t quite believe it, but she knows), my friends and family know, anyone I’ve ever dated knows. It is a fact. I love every bit of the Oscars ceremony, I genuinely give a flying, feathery fuck who wins Best Costume Design or Best Cinematography. The pomp and circumstance just appeals to my magpie sensibilities. Even though my spirit yearns to be a part of the excitement (who doesn’t love live tweeting award ceremonies?) and while my viewership wont count towards the ratings of the show while I’m here in Britain, I am following my fellow #OscarsSoWhite campaigners and not will not watch the show. And I want to so bad. I know it’s going to be fire.
On the 15th of October 2015 it was announced that Chris Rock would host the Academy Awards for a second time long before last month’s Oscars boycott gained traction. Chris Rock could have jumped ship and given up his position as host. I mean Tyrese and 50 Pence mounted pressure and publicly asked him to step down. It’s not as if he is unaware of the effects of Hollywood’s lack of diversity. In 2014 he wrote this powerful, intersectional essay for The Hollywood Reporter lamenting Hollywood’s inability to represent people of colour and black women. Rock could have banded with the protestors but the fact of the matter is that a) he’s contractually obliged to fulfil the terms of his agreement with The Academy (I’m assuming) and b) he will have a huge platform on which to share his message. Tonight the whole world will be watching him, waiting with bated breath to hear what he has to say and I for one don’t think there is anyone on the planet more qualified to do that job than Chris Rock. He is Never Scared to speak especially on this issue because he comes from a place of experience and truth.
On January 19th after I posted my blog post #OscarsSoWhite & Hotep Tears and a good word from my friend Akua over at The British Blacklist, check them out. I was invited to speak about diversity at the Oscars on Sky News. They also spoke to April Reign who started the hash tag. The movement had gained momentum and was now at the forefront of the discussion. it could not simply be ignored. Three days later on January 22nd The Academy announced sweeping changes that would affect their recruitment and voting procedures. Success. A movement started by a black woman on a social media platform was able to put pressure on those in charge and get them to enact real, meaningful change. It was then, however, that some of my favourite actors and Charlotte Rampling let their wilful ignorance and unabashed white privilege show. The same day as the announcement of the reforms in an interview on BBC Radio 4 Sir Michael Caine shared his idea that black actors had to be "patient." That same day Best Actress Academy Award contender Charlotte Rampling shared that she felt #OscarsSoWhite was “racist against whites”. On February 3rd Helen Mirren in an interview with Channel 4 News said it was ''unfair'' of people to attack the Academy. It is so discouraging when people whose work you enjoy for all their brilliance are unable to understand and show empathy for what it is we are fighting for.
Caine, Mirren and Rampling became defensive and immediately accused #OscarsSoWhite activists of being impatient, undeserving racists when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. These ideas are not only held by the three musketeers but are reflective of the attitudes of the whole of the film and television industries from coast to coast. The Academy and The Film industry are not separate entities acting autonomously. The Academy is made up of past nominees and winners and therefore IS the film industry. This is why these changes are important. In the capable hands of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 2020 The Academy hopes to have doubled the number of women and ethnic minority members. In my eyes this will put pressure on the studios to produce more films created by and staring women and people of colour. Why? Winning Oscars give studios recognition and allow them to sell their films to even more people in turn making them more money. It’s why movie adverts say things like “15 Academy Award Nominations.” It makes people want to watch the film. Studios fight violently for the privilege to say that their film is Academy Award Nominated or Winner. It’s why Netflix spent $12million making Beasts of No Nation in the hope of earning the much coveted movie ad opener “From the studio that brought you the Academy Award nominated film”. Alas it was never meant to be.
I trust Chris Rock. He is not infallible, he is not some black saviour come to right Hollywood’s wrongs. To put that kind of pressure on the man is an error that would see those looking for him to vindicate their underrepresentation utterly disappointed. That is not his job. He did not create the problem so he cannot be the one to fix it. His job is to make people laugh and think. He has been doing that for over 20 years and I don’t think today will be the day that he stops doing what he was clearly placed on the earth to do. When Chris Rock’s daughters asked him why they didn’t have good hair, he made a whole film investigating what it meant. Watching the film made me feel this man cares about me, while I knew the concepts in the film seeing a black man, and specifically a black man take on the responsibility of finding out what hair meant to black women made me feel visible.
He Despite my love and utter respect for Chris Rock, I cannot watch the Oscars this year. I am a black woman, a writer and director who dreams and works towards one day earning the privilege to win an Academy Award. I saw Amma Assante’s Belle go unrecognised for its achievements and did nothing. I watched as Ava Du’Vernay was robbed of her Selma nomination for Best Director and did nothing. But this year I can do something. It may be small but it is my activism. It is my way of making sure the little girls who come up after me can concentrate wholly on their craft and not worry that their gender or race is holding them back. I know that tonight’s telecast of the Academy Awards might have a surge in viewership due to the controversy surrounding it and that’s ok because the more people who hear Chris Rock reading The Academy and the film industry the better for the movement. The fight for representation and diversity in film must be a collaborative effort between those in power and the disenfranchised. Tonight, a man speaking on behalf of the maligned will have the world at his feet as he is paid by the decision makers to do what he does best; make everyone laugh while holding up a mirror to the discriminatory practices of the studio heads and executives. It will be brilliant. Chris Rock will once again prove why his the greatest comedian of all time.
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