Will Smith opened up about the Oscars diversity controversy in his first television interview since the firestorm erupted — which continues to escalate by the day — over the lack of nominations for African-Americans for the second consecutive year.
Among those snubbed, Will Smith himself. He had won critical acclaim for his portrayal in ‘Concussion’ Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pioneering researcher of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that plagues some NFL football players.
It was Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith who was among the first to speak out on the controversy which on social media has found a life of its own with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. As the days go by more actors and actresses, celebrities and public figures weigh in from George Clooney to Quincy Jones to Spike Lee to Stacey Dash to Rev. Al Sharpton and many others.
In his first sit-down interview, Will Smith spoke with GMA co-anchor Robin Roberts and broke his silence on the ongoing controversy. When asked about his wife’s comments and if he was aware that she was going to go public as she did, Will Smith said he didn’t know and that at the time he was out of the country.
He went on to say, “She’s deeply passionate and when she is moved, she has to go. And I heard her words and I was knocked over. I was happy to be married to that woman but I appreciated the push, there’s a position that we hold in this community and if we’re not a part of the solution we’re part of the problem. And it was her call to action for herself and for me and for our family to be a part of the solution.”
Asked about the backlash she has received from some who perceive she did it only because of his Oscar snub — notably from former ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ star Janet Hubert — Will Smith said, “There’s probably a part of that in there, but for Jada, had I been nominated and no other people of color were, she would have made the video anyway. We’d still be here having this conversation.”
He went on to say, “This is so deeply not about me. This is about children that are going to sit down and they’re going to watch this show and they’re not going to see themselves represented.”
Asked about whether or not he will be attending the Oscars given that his wife is boycotting, he confirmed that she’s not going and went on to say, “It would be awkward for me to show up with Charlize [Theron], you know, so, no.” He went on to say, “We’ve discussed it and we’re a part of this community, but at this current time, we’re uncomfortable to stand there and say that this is okay.”
Will Smith also weighed in on the larger issue of Hollywood and diversity and said, “I think that diversity is the American superpower. That’s why we are great. So many different people from so many different places adding their ideas, their inspiration and their influences to this beautiful American gumbo. And for me, at its best, Hollywood represents and then creates the imagery for that beauty.”
Continuing, he added, “But for my part, I think that I have to protect and fight for the ideals that make our country and make our Hollywood community great. And so when I look at the series of nominations of the Academy it’s not reflecting that beauty.”
Robin Roberts also asked Will Smith about George Clooney’s comments that ten years ago, he thought the Academy was doing better and he said, “Well, it’s really interesting. I’ve been nominated twice for Academy Awards. And I’ve never lost to a white person. The first time I lost to Denzel [Washington] and the second time I lost to Forest Whitaker so for me that was huge.”
He continued, and said, “So when I see this list and series of nominations that come out and everybody is fantastic and that’s the complexity of this issue, everyone is beautiful and deserving and is fantastic but it feels like it’s going the wrong direction, you know.”
He added, “When I look at it, the nominations reflect the Academy. The Academy reflects the industry, reflects Hollywood and then the industry reflects America. It reflects a series of challenges that we are having in our country at the moment. There’s a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony and that’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind. That’s not the industry, that’s not the America I want to leave behind.”
In the days leading up to the 88th Academy Awards on February 28th, we’re sure to see many more reactions from celebrities and public figures. With threats of boycotts and increasingly vociferous dialogue, this year is shaping up to be an awards season like no other.
See Will Smith’s full interview on the Oscars diversity controversy in the replay video below.
Pictures: PR Photos