January 23, 2016


Dear White Actors: Please Stop Trying To Whitesplain The Oscars Boycott

Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

The Academy Awards have experienced a tumultuous week following the nomination reveal last Thursday (Jan. 14), in which all 20 of the acting nominees were white. In many ways, it’s been a good kind of tumultuous, since the lack of diversity in the acting categories (for the second straight year, it’s worth noting) begs for some sort of amendment to the selection. Spike Lee, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have all boycotted the upcoming Oscars ceremony due to the all-white nominations. Some, like Furious 7 star Tyrese, have called for Chris Rock to step down as host. 

Whether or not you agree with the boycott, it’s undeniable that the movement has provoked a conversation that has needed to occur; it’s also sparking real change, as demonstrated by the words and actions of Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” Isaacs wrote on Friday (Jan. 22), in a memo in which the Academy promised to doubling the number of “women and diverse members” by 2020.

So, great! The “sweeping series of substantive changes” the Academy are committed to have needed to happen for a while! You know what hasn’t need to happen for a while? White actors trying to offer their own defensive, dismissive or just downright racist spin on a movement that doesn’t need their input!

On Thursday, Mark Ruffalo—up for best supporting actor for Spotlightstarted tweeting about the Oscar boycott, writing that he’s still attending the Feb. 28 ceremony but supports the “ban” (he meant boycott). He also wrote, “The Oscar Ban movement reflects a larger discussion about racism in the criminal justice system.” Okay… that’s a pretty odd thing to say and not expound upon, but sure.

Then 45 Years' best actress nominee Charlotte Rampling decided to go on French radio and say of the Oscar boycott, “It is racist to whites.” Oh, no. “Why classify people? These days everyone is more or less accepted ... People will always say: ‘Him, he’s less handsome’; ‘Him, he’s too black’; ‘He is too white’ ... someone will always be saying ‘You are too’ [this or that] ... But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?” Oh, no, Charlotte. No, no, no.

Then Oscar winner Michael Caine decided to address all black actors in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "You can't vote for an actor because he's black," he dropped, then added, “Be patient. Of course, it will come. Of course, it will come. It took me years to get an Oscar.” So that's Michael Caine, an older white gentleman, telling all minorities within Hollywood to calm down and keep on waiting, basically. Cool. Great decision.

And if you thought that was rock-bottom: Keep digging! Julie Delpy, nominated as a writer in 2014 for Before Midnight, told The Wrap, “Two years ago, I said something about the Academy being very white male, which is the reality, and I was slashed to pieces by the media … It’s funny — women can’t talk. I sometimes wish I were African American because people don’t bash them afterward.” Read that last sentence three times, and then send it to the underworld, if you can.

Look, in our culture of hot takes and hotter takes piled upon those hot takes, these candid comments can be expected. People want their opinions to be heard, dammit, and they think the world needs those opinions, above all else. And what’s the best way to have your opinion first? Say something definitely provocative, and possibly outrageous. Generate those headlines, Michael Caine! Tell ‘em how you feel, Julie Delpy!

Except: no. There is absolutely no need for these white actors to come forward and unfurl their out-of-touch positions on a situation that has rightfully aroused anger and has thankfully produced modification. 

Sometimes, you don’t need to say anything. Nothing at all! Trust us, no one was sitting around thinking, “Hmm, what does Michael Caine think of the Oscar boycott?” Not a single person was thinking that! They certainly weren't hoping that he'd advise all black actors!

Or if you’re an Oscar nominee like Rampling and naturally get asked by the press about the biggest story of this year’s Academy Awards, you don’t have to say something as gasp-inducing as, “It is racist to whites.” You can say something not-crazy; boring, even! You can acknowledge that a call to bring more diversity into an Academy composed predominantly of older white males, so that its nominees can be something other than 100 percent white, is not “racist to whites,” but in fact, pretty understandable.

We’ve got a month and change before the Oscars ceremony. Caucasian members of Hollywood’s elite: please, for the love of God, stop trying to whitesplain an issue that has already been thoroughly laid out by your peers. If you want to discuss, discuss. If you want to learn more about why people like Spike Lee, the Smiths and Cheryl Boone Isaacs are upset, by all means, educate yourself. But if you feel the need to drop wild truth bombs on the Internet, please, remember the first rule of the cinema experience: Silence is golden.