'It's easier for a black person to be president of the US'

Actress Helen Mirren (above) at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards, where director Spike Lee accepted an honorary Oscar last Saturday.
Actress Helen Mirren (above) at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards, where director Spike Lee accepted an honorary Oscar last Saturday. PHOTO: REUTERS
Actress Helen Mirren at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards, where director Spike Lee (above) accepted an honorary Oscar last Saturday.
Actress Helen Mirren at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards, where director Spike Lee (above) accepted an honorary Oscar last Saturday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Director Spike Lee speaks out against lack of diversity in Hollywood

LOS ANGELES • Director Spike Lee admonished the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its diversity issues as he accepted an honorary Oscar at a black-tie banquet in Hollywood last Saturday night.

Lee, 58, has been nominated for two competitive Oscars, one for writing Do The Right Thing (1989) and another as producer of the documentary 4 Little Girls (1997). But "nothing's changed" when it comes to race in Hollywood, he said. "It's easier to be president of the United States as a black person than head of a studio. Honest."

So it went, as the film academy - stung by fierce criticism of its failure to nominate any black actors or directors in the last round of Oscar voting - used its annual Governors Awards to face its issues head-on.

Ms Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy's president, set the tone with a speech about inclusiveness and the disclosure of a five-year plan, called A2020, to broaden the demographics of the group's membership, staff and governing board.

She also voiced her pleasure to be honouring two women - actresses Gena Rowlands and Debbie Reynolds - and a black man, Lee.

The Academy keeps the identities of voters private, but news organisations that have scrutinised the roster over the years found that balloters, before a recent push to diversify membership, were more than 90 per cent white.

During a ceremony that is more typically marked by boozy backpatting, attendees also voiced solidarity with those in Paris after the terror attacks there last Friday. "Peace and love to the people in France," Lee said, near the end of his 18-minute address.

Reynolds, 83, star of 1952's Singin' In The Rain, received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. She did not attend because she was recovering from surgery, the Academy said.

No white male took the stage until 2 hours and 24 minutes into the ceremony, when writer-director Nick Cassavetes rose to introduce his mother Rowlands, 85, a champion of independent film.

Cassavetes was preceded by Ms Isaacs, Jane Fonda, Zooey Deschanel, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney and Billie Lourd. And he was followed by Aloe Blacc, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Wesley Snipes in advance of Lee.

Films already considered Oscar front runners - kidnap drama Room and journalism drama Spotlight - were well represented at the gathering.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2015, with the headline ''It's easier for a black person to be president of the US''. Print Edition | Subscribe