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Jackson Plans Oscar Protest

Hollywood: Activist is angered by almost complete absence of black nominees this year. Official denies charges that academy discriminates against African Americans.

March 17, 1996|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, angered by the almost total absence of African American Oscar nominees, will come to Los Angeles next week to organize a protest against the Academy Awards and call attention to what he labeled institutional racism in the Hollywood film industry.

Jackson, who has launched similar attacks in recent years against the television industry, said Saturday that he will coordinate with several ethnic advocacy groups and community leaders on a grass-roots protest aimed at the March 25 Oscar festivities and at film studios that he maintains ignore blacks and other minorities.

"It doesn't stand to reason that if you are forced to the back of the bus, you will go to the bus company's annual picnic and act like you're happy," said Jackson from the Chicago headquarters of his Rainbow Coalition in referring to the Oscar ceremonies. "This impacts upon our dignity."

Jackson said he was prompted to action by his own research and by People magazine's cover story last week saying there is a "Hollywood blackout" that continues to exclude blacks in front of and behind the camera.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences executives said Jackson's charges are absurd, especially since the awards ceremony is being produced by Quincy Jones and hosted by Whoopi Goldberg.

Bruce Davis, executive director of the academy said: "The academy is probably the most liberal organization in the country this side of the NAACP. To say that the academy is discriminating against minorities is absurdity of the highest level. There must be other groups that are more in need of Rev. Jackson's attention."

He added, "for instance, Denzel Washington had two very good performances this year. But he's been nominated three times. He's an Oscar winner. At what point will they be comfortable? To say that because there are few nominations for a particular group because there is skulduggery is to show a misunderstanding of how the academy works."

Jackson acknowledged that the involvement of Jones and Goldberg is significant and "the exclusion is not absolute. But the bigger issue here is race exclusion and cultural distortion. We're talking about the overwhelming cultural power of movies. This distortion and denial can alter reality and determine life's options."

The absence of nominations for actors such as Washington, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, the cast of "Waiting to Exhale" and musician Kenny "Babyface" Edmunds, who produced the popular "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack, illustrates how minorities have been systematically ignored within the Hollywood film community, Jackson said.

Others in Hollywood have grumbled about the overlooking of Don Cheadle, who played the volatile sidekick Mouse in "Devil in a Blue Dress." Cheadle won critics awards for his portrayal.

There is only one black nominee in this year's Oscars, and that is in the category of best live-action short film.

Jackson said he will not know what specific form the protest will take until he meets with other leaders this week, adding that he also hopes to sit down with Motion Picture Assn. of America President Jack Valenti and top studio officials about the issue.

Jackson said that he would press on with his protest against the film industry after the Oscars, and that film studios that were the most notorious for excluding blacks from powerful influential executive positions and from big-budget films would be targeted for possible consumer action.

Jackson's pronouncements marked the second time in two years that he has declared war on Hollywood by charging racism. He threatened in 1994 to punish television networks with viewer boycotts and demonstrations if they did not increase the visibility of minorities in front of and behind the camera.

But although the fiery and charismatic activist met with some network officials, the demonstrations never materialized, and some of those involved in the protest said Jackson had failed to follow through on his promises. In addition, they said Jackson's statements seemed to have little effect on long-standing practices and traditions of prime-time programming.

But Jackson insisted in an interview last year that the television campaign was very much alive. And he repeated his commitment Saturday.

"After all, the Emmys are worse than the Oscars," he said.

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