Why Jada Pinkett Smith’s Oscar Boycott Is Corny, But Necessary
On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Jada Pinkett Smith made a very powerful plea to Black Hollywood, but from a very corny place.
What I mean is, in this video post uploaded to her Facebook account, Smith made it known that she would not be attending or watching the Academy Awards.
More specifically she said:
“I can’t help but ask the question, is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence that we have amassed, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere? I ask the question, have we come to a new time and place where we recognize that we can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgement or respect of any group? Maybe it’s time that we recognize that if we love and respect and acknowledge ourselves in the way in which we are asking others to do, that that is the place of true power. I’m simply asking the question.
Here’s what I believe: The Academy has the right to acknowledge whomever they choose. To invite whomever they choose. And now I think that it is our responsibility now to make the change. Maybe it is time that we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities, into our programs, and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit. That are just as good as the so-called ‘mainstream ones.’ I don’t know.
But here’s what I do know: Begging for acknowledgment or even asking diminishes dignity. It diminishes power. And we are a dignified people and we are powerful. And let’s not forget it.
So, let’s let the Academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do us – differently.”
Generally speaking, I am of the firm belief that asking for help is neither undignified nor does it make one powerless. Quite the contrary. And as a people, we need to stop asking – no, demanding – that we suffer in silence for the sake of public image, a.k.a., “dignity.”
Nevertheless, this is a very powerful sentiment from one-half of Hollywood’s Black power couple. And not something that we haven’t heard countless times from those outside and inside Hollywood before. For instance, Anthony Mackie has been very vocal in his belief that Black people need to stop begging for recognition and begin creating our own.
But powerful sentiments aside, I hope that means Smith and others, including the likes of Snoop Lion and Spike Lee, who too are supporting the boycott, will keep that in mind the next time an invite comes in the mail from the NAACP Image Awards or BET Honors award shows.
And I’m serious.
In a video posted to his social media networks, Snoop Lion not only offered his support for Smith’s planned boycott but keenly noted, “I say let’s have a hood awards where we give all Black people what they due and deserve. From yesteryear, today and tomorrow.”
Googly side-eye emoticon…
But to be fair, he likely rolled up the invite and smoked it by accident.
Even still, there is something to be said for folks getting in their feelings about what these White award shows aren’t doing and how we need to “boycott,” but when Black award season rolls around, you have Terrence J and M.C. Hammer accepting an award on their behalf.
To me, that’s corny.
Also kind of corny is telling Black folks to show some dignity by not “begging” the Oscars for acceptance while previously advocating for the further integration of Essence magazine (i.e., The “if we ask our white sisters, who tend to be the guardians of the covers of mainstream magazines, to consider women of color to grace these covers, should we not offer the same consideration to white women to grace our covers?” question she posted on her Facebook page).
And if that doesn’t meet your corniness threshold, here comes the original Aunt Viv with a video of her own to point out how it wasn’t fair for Smith to ask other actors and actresses to “jeopardize” their careers. Especially when the power couple personally made millions from “the very people you talking about boycotting.” Likewise, Janet Hubert pointed out that Jada would probably have no interest in a boycott of the Academy Awards if not for her husband’s film getting a snub.
She also took a moment to, once again, remind us that Smith ain’t nothin’ but a low-down dirty dog. More accurately, the “Blackstress” said in full saturation:
“And I seem to recall that twenty-six-seven, twenty-five…I don’t seem to remember. But I remember at option time coming to you and saying, you know what Will? You’re the star of the show. Why don’t we all get together and with you, maybe we can get a little raise. Maybe the network, since the show is such a hit and you being the star of the show, your influence will help us greatly like they did on Friends; like they did on White shows. Do you remember that? I do. And your response to me was, ‘My deal is my deal and y’alls deal is y’alls deal.’
Well, karma must be a b—h because here you are…”
Aunt Viv over there sounding more like Aunt Esther.
To be fair, the Smiths have not exactly been dormant when it comes to social justice issues. In fact, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince once led a very public boycott of the 1989 Grammy Awards even though they were nominated and ultimately won an award. As noted by DJ Jazzy Jeff in an interview from 2014 with BET:
At the time, less than three decades ago, while the awards committee didn’t want to televise the category nomination for rap’s first Grammy recipients, they did ask them to perform. “It was almost like, you kind of want us to be the token,” Jeff said. “This is our contribution to hip hop on the Grammys, but it’s not big enough for us to televise the category.”
That “slap in the face” led the duo to boycott. “We didn’t know what that was going to do for our career, but at that point, in that stage of hip hop, you had people saying that hip hop is only going to be around for a certain amount of time.”
And I would be flagrant if I didn’t mention that the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation and Overbrook Entertainment has put a lot of their money behind projects. That includes the Million Man March, Justice…Or Else! and the Free Angela and All Political Prisoners documentary, as well as the film and television programs Love & Basketball, ATL and the Queen Latifah Show. And then there is Jada Pinkett Smith’s very passionate support of the campaign to end human trafficking.
So if Jada, in particular (because Will hasn’t said a thing), is only boycotting the Academy from a self-serving place, one could see how she might feel like she has earned herself some privilege.
Not to mention that this – Hollywood – is their chosen profession. And unlike other actors and actresses who like to seek change elsewhere in the world while failing to call out the injustices in their own backyard, I appreciate Jada for at least trying to use her position to push for reform. Even if she is now just waking up.
Wherever it comes from, there’s no doubt that this boycott needs to happen. Hell, it needed to happen years ago, and not just at Oscar time. There is a lot of money being made off of our image and stories while not including us. There are a lot of tax incentives (i.e., our tax dollars) going to help support Hollywood films that don’t support us. And there are a lot of good Black actors, actresses, directors, producers, writers…down to the Black gophers being denied key platforms and positions and money within a global industry needed to help us build and ensure that our own institutions flourish.
Yes, we have to build our own, but we can’t build our own in isolation. Even Tyler Perry, who has his own, answers to somebody.
And yes, we have to build our own. But building our own takes time, especially when we are attempting to build our own in a way that structurally opposes how “the man” had come to build his (i.e., through oppression, slavery, imperialism, colonialism, segregation, discrimination, etc…).
So while I fully understand the criticism of the boycott and too think the possible motivation for it is corny, I’m also thankful that one of Black Hollywood’s biggest gatekeeping couples has finally seen some parts of the light. Maybe we can finally get somewhere…