As the Chairman of RLJ Entertainment and Founder of Black Entertainment Television, I offer my recommendations as to how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Academy might increase the pool of diversity for Oscar nominations. The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on color or ethnicity. I firmly believe that quality entertainment should be colorblind; however, here are some ideas that should be considered by the Academy to increase diversity of choices in Oscar nominations:
To engage with the studios to ask why there are not more films produced that by the true nature of the story should feature African Americans in leading actor/actress or supporter actor/actress roles. For example, why was Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe or Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson both greenlit but not films based on the true story of the African general Hannibal or the African chief and warrior Shaka Zulu? If the answer is financial or there is a belief that there is a lack of cultural interest or identity in those stories those issues need to be addressed with the studios;
Increase the number of voting members of the Academy by adding qualified minority individuals whose sensitivity and knowledge of the creative process of writers, directors, and actors is equal to that of existing Academy voters. Perhaps the ratio of new diverse members could be based on either the population of diverse theater goers or the dollars spent by diverse theater goers. The goal here is not to dilute an individual’s unique perspective as an Academy voter, whether they are diverse or not, but simply to increase diversity of voices and therefore choices;
Encourage the studios and the creative community to cast actors and actresses in roles without regard to color/race whether or not the society is willing or ready to accept the diverse relationship that is depicted in the film. For example, would films like “Pretty Woman” or “Sleepless in Seattle” been less creative if the characters were interracial?; and finally,
Encourage the studios to hire more people of color in their creative and development departments with authority to greenlight films similar to what is occurring in television as noted by the number of Emmy nominations for minorities.