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Rival movie awards to highlight diversity gap days before Oscars

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Sunday, February 14th, 2016
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Photograph: Jeff Vespa/Getty Images
Photograph: Jeff Vespa/Getty Images

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is to stage a rival awards show just days before the Oscars with the aim of showcasing the diverse Hollywood talent ignored by the world’s most famous film ceremony.

The All Def Movie awards are clearly designed as a reaction to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy which has overshadowed this year’s awards season after the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to include a single person of colour among its acting nominees for the second year running. Beasts of No Nation, Chi-Raq, Concussion, Creed, Dope and Straight Outta Compton will compete for best picture. Guests will arrive on a black carpet, and as well as handing out prizes for best actor, best actress, best director and “best bad muh fucka”, there will be prizes for “best helpful white person” and “best black survivor in a movie”.

Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam and producer of films such as Krush Groove and The Nutty Professor, said his awards were “not the Black Oscars, but they could be”, adding: “This will be a fun, entertaining and hopefully thought-provoking celebration of the uncelebrated.” He continued: “I don’t expect a 90-year-old Academy member to see Straight Outta Compton or vote for it. I’m more concerned that in 2016 there continues to be a stunning lack of diversity in the studios, in the green-light process, in the decisions of what films and television series get made and what actors get chosen. This needs to be addressed institutionally.”

Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith and Tyrese Gibson are among black actors to have either called for a boycott or signalled they will not attend this year’s Oscars following the row over all-white lists of nominees. In response the Academy has introduced new rules to double the number of members from minority backgrounds by 2020 and promised the 2016 ceremony will be “the most diverse ever”, with presentations and appearances from producer Quincy Jones, the Django Unchained star Kerry Washington, Indian-born actor Priyanka Chopra, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Hart, Benicio del Toro and Pharrell Williams.

In other Oscars news, three-time winner Steven Spielberg has weighed into the diversity deficit row, praising Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton but suggesting the Academy may have gone to far with its moves to restrict the voting rights of less active members.

“I’m a huge supporter of the Academy Awards,” Spielberg told the Hollywood Reporter. “I was surprised at some of the individuals who were not nominated. I was surprised at [the exclusion of] Idris [Elba]. I think that was one of the best performances in the supporting actor and the actor category. I’ve seen Straight Outta Compton – my wife and I saw it when it first opened, the first weekend, and it just rocked our world. It was incredible.”

But the film-maker said he did not support “taking votes away from Academy members who have paid their dues and maybe are retired now”. He added: “Maybe they’ve not won a nomination, which would have given them immunity to the new rules, but they have served proudly and this is their industry, too. To strip their votes? I’m not 100% behind that.”

This year’s Oscars takes place at the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles on 28 February, with Chris Rock set to host. In the closest best picture race for many years, Alejandro G Iñárritu’s grim western The Revenant, Catholic abuse drama Spotlight and financial crisis comedy drama The Big Short all remain in the running for the top prize, according to bookmakers. Leonardo DiCaprio is widely expected to win the best actor award for his turn as a vengeful 19th-century frontiersman in The Revenant, while Room’s Brie Larson is the runaway favourite to win best actress.

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