From left to right; director Spike Lee, actress Viola Davis and actor and producer George Clooney.
From left to right; director Spike Lee, actress Viola Davis and actor and producer George Clooney. Valeie Macon—AFP/Getty Images; Barry King—Getty Images (2)

Insiders Reveal How Huge Hollywood's Diversity Problem Really Is

Updated: Jan 25, 2016 4:05 PM ET

Since the announcement of the 2016 Oscar nominations on Jan. 14, actors, directors and other Hollywood insiders have reacted to the noms’ lack of diversity with emotions ranging from disappointment to outrage. And the stream of comments has picked up over the past several days, especially following the Academy’s announcement on Friday of an overhaul aimed at increasing diversity.

Reactions have shared a common thread (with some exceptions) of acknowledging that the lack of diversity is a problem and pleading with the Academy to correct course. And while some have espoused alternative messages—for example, Nick Cannon’s spoken word poem expressing that “fa ke gold and plastic” are distractions from larger issues like police violence and systemic racism, or Ice Cube’s belief that complaining about not getting nominated is tantamount to “crying about not having enough icing on your cake” —the overwhelming theme has been this: minimal diversity in the Academy is a symptom of larger issues of exclusion in the film industry and in Hollywood at large.

From Oscar-winning dire ctors Alejandro Iñárritu and Michael Moore to actors like Viola Davis and Don Cheadle, below is a sampling of voices from a chorus which believes that the best way to see more people of color represented at future Academy Awards ceremonies is to start with the studio executives who greenlight the movies that end up in theaters in the first place.

Alejandro Inarritu, at a Producers Guild of America panel Jan. 23: “The demographic complexity of this country should be reflected not only at the end of the chain, but since the beginning, in order that more of these people can be excited and integrated...These changes the Academy has made are a great step. But the Academy is at the end of the chain. Hopefully these positive changes can start from the beginning of the chain...Cinema is a mirror by which we often see ourselves. That’s the role we play as filmmakers. If that power is not transmitted on the screens, there’s something wrong.”

John Legend, in a Sundance interview with Deadline: “I think what the Academy did this week is a step in the right direction but it’s going to be a slow moving change because the Academy really reflects in a large degree what the industry looks like, and for more people to be in the Academy, you have to have more people having jobs that would lead them to be invited to the Academy...For a certain type of film, the Oscar type of film, it’s kind of a narrow road and there don’t seem to be a lot of films featuring people of color.”

Don Cheadle, following a screening of his film Miles Ahead at Sundance: “I think it is a step in the right direction, a needed step. But people really have to have access to tell the stories they want to tell. So what we really need is people in positions to greenlight those stories, not a hunk of metal.”

Spike Lee, in an Instagram post announcing his intention not to attend the Oscars: “As I see it, the Academy Awards is not where the "real" battle is. It's in the executive office of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks. This is where the gatekeepers decide what gets made and what gets jettisoned to ‘turnaround’ or scrap heap. This is what's important...The truth is we ain't in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly white.”

Will Smith, explaining his decision not to attend the Oscars on Good Morning America: “The nominations reflect the Academy, the Academy reflects the industry; reflects Hollywood. The industry reflects America. It reflects a series of challenges we’re having in our country at the moment. There’s a regressive slide towards racial and religious disharmony. That’s not the Hollywood I want to leave behind. That’s not the industry, that’s not the America I want to leave behind.”

Lupita Nyong’o, posting on Instagram following the nomination announcement: “I am disappointed by the lack of inclusion in this year’s Academy Awards nominations. It has me thinking about unconscious prejudice and what merits prestige in our culture...The Awards should not dictate the terms of art in our modern society, but rather be a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has has to offer today...I stand with my peers who are calling for change in expanding the stories that are told and recognition of the people who tell them.”

Viola Davis, to ET at Elle‘s 6th Annual Women in Television Dinner: “The problem is not with the Oscars, the problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system...How many black films are being produced every year? How are they being distributed? The films that are being made, are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role? Can you cast a black woman in that role? Can you cast a black man in that role?...You can change the Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?...The Oscars are not really the issue. It’s a symptom of a much greater disease.”

George Clooney, in an interview with Variety: “I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is: How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films? I think we have a lot of points we need to come to terms with...But we should have been paying attention long before this. I think that African-Americans have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough. I think that’s absolutely true...But honestly, there should be more opportunity than that. There should be 20 or 30 or 40 films of the quality that people would consider for the Oscars. By the way, we’re talking about African Americans. For Hispanics, it’s even worse. We need to get better at this. We used to be better at it.”

Michael Moore, in an interview with The Wrap: “A fish rots from the head down, and the head is over there in this industry. The problem has to get fixed in the studio system, which has been a white-dominated, male-dominated industry forever.”

Mark Ruffalo, in an interview with BBC Breakfast: “It isn’t just the Academy Award. The entire American system is rife with white privilege racism. It goes into our justice system.”

Paris Barclay, president of the Directors Guild of America, in a statement Jan. 25: "Many times, with the best of intentions, a subject that is a symptom of this industry plague, but not the root cause, is targeted. The Academy’s decisions – to broaden its leadership and membership, and to limit voting rights for those no longer active in the industry – are important actions and may lead to greater acknowledgement of more diverse films and people who make them. But this alone will do little to create more choices and get more films and television made that reflect the diversity we all deserve...Those who control the pipeline and entryway to jobs must move beyond the 'old boy' network and word-of-mouth hiring. They must commit to industry-wide efforts to find available diverse talent that is out there in abundance, or to train and create opportunities for new voices entering our industry. Rules must be implemented to open up the hiring process."

Danny DeVito, in a Sundance interviews with The Wrap: “I love America, but it’s a racist country built on the boards of genocide." In an interview with the Associated Press, he said: "We are living in a country that discriminates and has certain racist tendencies so sometimes it's manifested in things like this and it's illuminated. But just generally speaking we're racists. We are a bunch of racists."

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