Exclusive: Academy president speaks out after 'Selma' snubs put spotlight on Hollywood diversity

BySandy Kenyon KGO logo
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
In this image released by Paramount Pictures, David Oyelowo portrays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a scene from "Selma."

NEW YORK -- On this holiday to celebrate the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems incredible that "Selma" marks the first feature film about the late civil rights leader. And to some, it has come to symbolize Hollywood's lack of diversity.

"Selma" was one of just eight films selected to compete for best picture, Oscar's top award and the industry's most prestigious, so why was there so much outrage online?

Common's Academy Award nomination for his song from the film can't quite take away the sting of seeing director Ava Duvernay and star David Oyelowo fail to get nominated.

"It seems to me sort of criminal that 'Selma' could be nominated for best film and not Ava Duvernay for best director," actress Julianne Moore said.

The paltry pair of nominations for "Selma" convinced the Reverend Al Sharpton to form a task force to look into the lack of diversity.

"I think dialogue is always helpful, and I believe that is what Reverend Sharpton is looking for, is dialogue," Academy President Cheryl Boone Issacs said in an exclusive interview with Sandy Kenyon.

She says she understands the anger.

"The anger comes from years of being excluded," she said. "The change will continue...with regard to race, as well as gender."

Boone Isaacs has made moves to diversify the Academy's membership, and the editor of the Hollywood Reporter, Janice Min, points to signs of progress like last year's win for "12 Years a Slave" as best picture."

"They've taken a lot of effort to diversify the membership of the academy, which everyone now knows the famous stats," Min said. "It's 77 percent male, very old average age, very white."

Min says this reflects a lack of diversity in Hollywood as a whole, but the Academy must lead the way.

"You can interview nine out of 10 people in town who work in this business, and they will tell you it is not diverse enough...But then, after that, the answers as to what you do, everyone sort of shrugs and sort of looks awkward and hopes someone will answer that question."

One answer is provided by the man left off Oscar's list.

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem," Oyelowo said. "And what we're going to do is keep making movies."