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Obama: Oscar debate is part of broader issue

WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that the controversy over this year's all-white Oscar acting nominations is part of a broader issue the country is grappling with.

No ethnic minority actors or actresses were nominated for the top Academy Awards for the second year running, sparking an outcry and prompting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to announce reforms.

"I think that when everyone's story is told then that makes for better art," Mr Obama told regional television anchors.

"It makes for better entertainment, it makes everybody feel part of one American family," he said, according to an ABC affiliate.

"I think, as a whole, the industry should do what every other industry should do, which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody. And I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?"

Last week, the academy said it was doubling its diversity push and ending guaranteed lifelong voting rights. This time, it was academy members' turn to react in disbelief and outrage.

Director Sidney Furie, an 82-year-old member, noted that it was his brethren who made Sidney Poitier the first black man to win Best Actor in 1964 and named In The Heat Of The Night, also starring Poitier, Best Picture in 1968. "The very people who voted for those Oscars are now being accused of being the roadblocks to the diversity the academy now seems committed to," he wrote in an e-mail.

It is a valid argument, but part of the charge against the academy - whose members skew heavily to older, male and white - is how out of touch it is with contemporary black culture.

Although Oscar voters have supported films touching on slavery, such as 12 Years A Slave (2013) and Django Unchained (2012), they have been slow to rally around films about present-day African-American life, such as Creed and Straight Outta Compton.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Obama: Oscar debate is part of broader issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe