The Oscars boycott: Not just a temper tantrum

Micha Frazer-Carroll 1 February 2016

Next month, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, and other black actors and filmmakers will boycott the Oscars in protest of this year’s startling all-white acting nominees list.

Among support for a brave act of rebellion that flies in the face of one of the most prestigious institutions in the business, came cries that those involved needed to check their privilege and consider themselves lucky to be in such a fortunate situation as to be making movies in the first place.

Interestingly, many of these came from other black celebrities; Janet Hubert of The Fresh Prince remarked: “Our boys are being shot left and right. People are starving. People are trying to pay bills. And you’re talking about some f*****g actors and Oscars.” But Hubert fails to see how these things could be interconnected.

When actors choose to boycott, they aim to provoke change from the top down. To revolt against diversity in Hollywood is to stand up for black people everywhere; not a temper tantrum on the part of actors who need a reality check, but rather a reaction to systemic oppression from the people in the business who are most in touch with reality. As long as marginalised members of minority groups can’t climb into the highest ranks of a given institution, it will be more difficult for their less privileged compatriots to even get a foot in the door. Lack of respect for black talent in Hollywood means a deficit in serious roles for black actors, which means a lack of black representation on screen, which means a lack of respect for black lives and black stories. I commend actors courageous enough to kick up a fuss despite the fact that in theory, they don’t need to work another day in their lives.

And the same goes for Cambridge. Always think twice before questioning a member of a marginalised group’s dissatisfaction with a system that holds down their peers, friends and families.

To question a BME student’s outrage at the fact that white students are five times more likely to gain a First than them is to miss the point entirely. “You’re at one of the best universities in the world, you can’t really complain,” isn’t a good enough argument; in ‘elite’ institutions, whether they be Hollywood or the Russell Group, there is a proverbial glass ceiling that affects ethnic minorities too, and we should consider the trickle-down effect that would occur if it were to be smashed.

An ethnic minority student gaining a First could create an opportunity to pursue a career in academia, creating visibility for BME people within the field and encouraging more ethnic minority students to apply to university.

To still fight for those who suffer from the same oppressions as you, even when you have found yourself in relatively fortunate circumstances, is an act of selflessness and loyalty to your community. “You’ve made it this far, be thankful” just isn’t enough.