April Reign: Why #OscarsSoWhite is not finished

"Until we have more representation of all marginalized communities, #OscarsSoWhite is not finished," April Reign, the founder of the movement tells CNN's #GetPolitical series.

Posted: Mar 4, 2018 7:26 PM
Updated: Mar 4, 2018 7:29 PM

#OscarsSoWhite founder April Reign told CNN's #GetPolitical that although the movement she started in January 2015 has begun to move the needle when it comes to representing and celebrating diversity in Hollywood, its work has only just begun.

This year, although several black actors, directors and writers were nominated for Academy Awards in various categories, the National Hispanic Media Coalition staged a pre-Oscars protest on Saturday to call attention to the dismal representation of Hispanic Americans in film.

In the Oscars' 90-year history, there still has only been one woman of color — Halle Berry in 2002 — to win a best actress award, and only six men of color to ever win best actor. This week, Reign launched "Akuarel," a new website where Hollywood studios can find actors and filmmakers of color.

CNN: Were you encouraged by the fact that black actors, directors and writers received nominations in several categories this year?

REIGN: Although I think we can be happy for the fact that there are a record number of nominations for black filmmakers, especially behind the camera this year, the black community does not stand for all communities.

CNN: There are several records that could be broken this year. Jordan Peele could become the first African-American director to win best director, and Dee Rees could become the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Is that encouraging?

REIGN: Let's be honest. We have some record nominations this year for the black community, but the fact that we are still talking about firsts in 2018 means there's a lot more that needs to be done in our community as well.

CNN: Who needs to be held accountable to ensure that diversity is represented and celebrated in film?

REIGN: We could not have expected to see overnight change because the onus is truly on Hollywood. The Academy can only nominate films that are made, so it really depends on Hollywood filmmakers and those who have the ability to green-light films to step out of their comfort zone and allow more people from marginalized communities to tell their stories.

CNN: Even when they are cast, actors of color are often relegated to playing stereotypical roles.

REIGN: What we see in film all to often is that there are stereotypical tropes that people of color and people of marginalized communities are expected to play. So, for example, how many more slave movies do we need? You know, we've had "12 Years a Slaves," "Django" and "Birth of a Nation," and "Roots" and so many others, but there's so much more to the black experience than what happened in the 1700s and 1800s.

CNN: What does the success of "Black Panther" tell us?

REIGN: I think "Black Panther" is a fantastic example of what can happen when studios give the green light to show richly developed characters in all of their glory, fully formed and realized people on screen, and the box office is indicating that people want to see more of that.

CNN: What glimmers of hope have you seen over the last two years?

REIGN: I think the legacy of #OscarsSoWhite is that we have seen some systemic progress. The Academy for example, has pledged to doubling people of color and the number of women within its ranks by 2020, and I expect that they will continue to move towards that progress. We've also seen with the BAFTAs (The British Academy Film Awards) that there are two new categories that specifically focus on diversity within the filmmaking community.

CNN: When will you feel that #OscarsSoWhite has fulfilled its purpose?

REIGN: Until we have more representation of all marginalized communities, #OscarsSoWhite is not finished. And there should never have been a thought that it would be completed in one year or two because that's truly not the way Hollywood works. ... It takes years to go from a screenplay, to a green light, to production, to having a film on screen, so it is not any surprise to me that we're seeing just incremental progress every year.

For more on culture and politics, check out CNN's #GetPolitical series.

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