Actors - From Julie Delpy to Mark Ruffalo - on the 2016 Oscars Boycott

Why Some Actors Sparked Controversy Because of Their Boycott Comments

Julie Delpy
Julie Delpy at the Oscars. Disney-ABC Television Group's Flickr Photostream

Prominent white actors shared their thoughts on diversity in Hollywood after no entertainers of color received 2016 Oscar nominations in the major categories, prompting calls for an Academy Awards boycott. It marked the second consecutive year that all 20 actors nominated for Academy Awards were white, causing the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to trend on social media networks once again.

Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is 93 percent white, some actors, such as Charlotte Rampling, seemed to defend the makeup of the voters and of the nominees. Others agreed that the Academy needs to be more diverse and that the film industry overall needs to give entertainers of colors the same opportunity to shine as whites. Here’s how actors—from Julie Delpy to George Clooney—responded to the Oscars controversy in the weeks following the Jan. 14 nominations announcement.

Boycott "Racist to Whites"

After actress Jada-Pinkett Smith and filmmaker Spike Lee both announced that they would skip the 2016 Oscars due to concerns about diversity, Rampling responded entirely differently. She told French radio station Europe 1 that the boycott was “racist to white people” and questioned whether the nominees should have been more diverse. “One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list,” she said.

Rampling also argued that every actor faces bias of some sort, sweeping diversity concerns under the rug.

“Why classify people?” she asked. “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...’, but do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?”

After Rampling’s comments sparked a Twitter backlash, the actress walked back from her words. She said her remarks had been misinterpreted and that diversity in Hollywood is an issue that should be addressed.

The Academy Can’t Vote for Actors Based on Race

Oscar winner Michael Caine weighed-in on the Oscars controversy during a BBC Radio 4. He objected to the idea that some sort of quota system should be instituted in the Academy to foster diversity, although none of the entertainers who said they would boycott the Oscars suggested such a strategy.

“There’s loads of black actors,” Caine said. “You can’t vote for an actor because he’s black. You got to give a good performance, and I’m sure there were very good [performances].”

In fact, Caine said that Idris Elba’s performance in “Beasts of No Nation” impressed him. Elba, however, did not receive a 2016 Oscar nod. This was news to Caine.

When asked to give advice to black actors who feel slighted by the Academy, Caine said: “Be patient. Of course, it will come. Of course, it will come. It took me years to get an Oscar.”

Caine, much like Rampling, was derided for his comments and dismissed for being out of touch.

Being Female Is Harder

Actress Julie Delpy also sparked a backlash while discussing race and the Oscars. During an interview with The Wrap at the Sundance Film Festival, Delpy recalled, “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,” she said. “It’s funny — women can’t talk. I sometimes wish I were African American, because people don’t bash them afterward.”

She went on to say, “It’s the hardest to be a woman. Feminists is something people hate above all. Nothing worse than being a woman in this business. I really believe that.”

Delpy was promptly called out for ignoring the fact that black women exist and for suggesting that blacks somehow have it easier than she does. She later apologized for her remarks, stressing that she didn’t mean to diminish the injustices that African Americans suffer.

“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),” she said in a statement. “I never intended to underestimate anyone else’s struggle!”

Moving in the Wrong Direction

George Clooney told Variety that he felt a decade ago the Oscars were making headway in nominating actors of color. “Today, you feel like we’re moving in the wrong direction,” he said. “There were nominations left off the table. There were four films this year: ‘Creed’ could have gotten nominations; ‘Concussion’ could have gotten Will Smith a nomination; Idris Elba could have been nominated for ‘Beasts of No Nation;’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton’ could have been nominated. And certainly last year, with ‘Selma’ director Ava DuVernay — I think that it’s just ridiculous not to nominate her.”

But Clooney also pointed out that the problem goes beyond the Academy and to Hollywood generally. He said that the film industry needs to give underrepresented groups meatier roles, so that 20, 30 or 40 films starring such people have a chance at Oscar glory each year rather than one, two or none at all.

The Whole System Is Racist

Actor Mark Ruffalo, who received a 2016 best supporting actor nod for “Spotlight,” told BBC Breakfast that he’s concerned about the lack of diversity at the Oscars.

“I totally agree,” he said. “It isn’t just the Academy Awards. The entire American system is rife with white privilege racism. It goes into our justice system.”

Although Ruffalo initially said he was contemplating boycotting the Oscars, he later said he would attend to support the victims of clergy sexual abuse that “Spotlight” chronicles.

Ruffalo said he’d wrestled with the right way to proceed in light of the Oscars diversity scandal.

“What is the right way to do this?” he asked. “Because if you look at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, what he was saying is the good people who don’t act are much worse than the wrongdoers who are purposely not acting and don’t know the right way.”