Do we need a ‘Rooney Rule’ in Hollywood?

Published 1:57 pm Monday, January 25, 2016

I’ve been pondering this idea of boycotting the Oscars; you know, the Academy Awards handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for the best in cinema during this past year.

I find it interesting that some of the most prominent figures in Hollywood are split down the middle on the subject.

I was too.

I say ‘was’, because I’ve stepped up on how – and why – I feel like I do. I’m going to be in front of my TV set Sunday, Feb. 28 watching as I always have, when I’ve had the time that is.

I’m looking at several things: Spike Lee, a director I’ve had the pleasure to meet, and for whom I have tremendous respect for, says he’s not attending. He was on TV this week saying he never mentioned the word ‘boycott’ in reference to the Academy Awards ceremony amid controversy over a lack of diversity among this year’s nominees for the major awards, and now he’s saying a plan is needed to ensure racial equity in Hollywood.

Okay, Spike, fair enough. Who runs the major studios? Whites. Who makes up a majority of the members of the Academy? White males. Face it, Spike, until black people get inside those board rooms you’re going to have that.

Wait, did I say ‘until’!?! Well, look at who heads up the Academy; yep, the president of the group is none other than Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and she’s as black as Spike Lee. You probably don’t recognize her because she heads her own public relations firm and has done the P-R work on such films as “Forrest Gump”, “Close Encounters”, and even an Oscar winner: remember “The King’s Speech”? The President is usually front and center when the show comes or, or appears prominently during the telecast. Hmmm, maybe Spike means the folk behind the scenes.

Whoa! Won’t this year’s telecast be produced by Reginald Hudlin? The same Reginald Hudlin who produced ‘Django Unchained’, the Quentin Tarantino film that was – ahem! – nominated for an Oscar in 2013. Yes, he’ll be the guy shouting in some director’s ear to get a close-up of Sandra Bullock’s cleavage; and, also the one who’ll dole out those hundred-thousand dollar goody-bags the presenters get just for showing up.

Okay, okay, so Spike has to mean this year’s host. But I’m pulling up short again because it’s supposed to be Chris Rock, one of the funniest people on the planet – black, white, or otherwise.

Maybe he feels slighted that he’s never received an Oscar. Oops! Wasn’t he the recipient, last November, of a Governor’s Award golden statuette shaped like an Oscar? These are the Oscars they give out ahead of the one in February so the winter show won’t run until 4 a.m. in the morning, West Coast-time.

This isn’t the NFL, Spike. There’s no ‘Rooney Rule’ that says a certain number of candidates of a certain racial persuasion have to be nominated/selected. As even your fellow artists like Tyler Perry opined: ‘What if Idris Elba lost out to Leonardo DiCaprio by a vote of 101-to-100, would you still say the process was unfair?’

Or, ‘Boys-N-the Hood’ director John Singleton, who reminded us a film doesn’t have to ‘reek’ of greatness when it first comes out to become a classic: look at the often-rejected, greatly criticized works of the great Orson Welles.

So I’m going to be watching, I hope Chris Rock will be hosting, and I also think it’ll be an enjoyable evening of television.

But these are my beliefs because I think these movies, and actors, and technicians, and everybody nominated still has merit. I think the problem in Hollywood goes deeper than the nominations. Maybe the stories that we tell every time we look at the screen need to be more diverse in nature. I think that says more to me about society than, “…and the winner is!”


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7211.