Entertainment

#OscarsSoWhite: Will Smith won't attend awards but says it's 'so deeply not about me'

Actor Will Smith has confirmed he will not attend the upcoming Academy Awards over concerns about the lack of diversity, but rejected the accusation he was only angry about his own lack of a nomination this year, as the unprecedented backlash against the film awards continues to grow.

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Will Smith's part in Oscars boycott

Actor Will Smith confirms he won't be attending the Academy Awards and addresses his investment in the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.

Smith was one of several black and Hispanic actors thought to be in contention for a nomination this year, before the Academy revealed last week that for the second year in a row, all the nominated actors were white, prompting anger and condemnation over the lack of diversity and the resurgence of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and campaign.

In the face of growing public and industry outcry, the Academy issued an unprecedented mea culpa over the issue, and The New York Times has reported that new measures to try and make the awards more diverse could be announced as soon as next week.

The backlash gathered significant momentum after several high-profile black artists spoke about the issue and suggested a boycott might be necessary, including Smith's wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and the acclaimed director Spike Lee.

Smith backed up his wife's concerns in an interview on Thursday morning in the US, telling Good Morning America that he believed things were actually going backwards when it came to diversity in Hollywood.

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"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. For me that was huge," he said.

"So when I see this list and series of nominations that came out... and everybody is fantastic...everybody is beautiful and deserving... it feels like it's going in the wrong direction."

"There's a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony, and that's not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind."

Smith said he was out of the country when Pinkett Smith made her remarks but said he was knocked over by her words and felt "happy to be married to that woman."

One of Smith's former Fresh Prince of Bel Air co-stars, Janet Hubert, had lashed out at the couple earlier in the week and accused them of calling for a boycott simply because Smith himself wasn't nominated. Smith had received a Golden Globe nomination for his starring role in the film Concussion.

But the actor rejected that suggestion in Thursday's interview.

"This is so deeply not about me," he said. "This is about children who are going sit down and watch this show, and they're not going to see themselves represented."

He also confirmed they would not be attending the ceremony this year saying "at this current time we're uncomfortable to say that this is ok."

Amidst the mounting backlash there has been pressure on host Chris Rock to step down from the role in a gesture of protest. Rock has already targeted the lack of diversity with humour - calling the Oscars the "white BET Awards" on Twitter. The BET Awards, are run by Black Entertainment Television, a cable network in the United States, and focus on the achievements of people of colour.

But Rock has stopped short of commenting directly on the boycott.

Many others though have weighed in, as the issue begins to dominate coverage of the awards and receives enormous attention in the American media. Criticism has been directed at the Academy, which votes for the awards and is overwhelmingly white and male, but also at the industry more widely, for the continuing paucity of good roles for actors of colour.

Actor Mark Ruffalo, who received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in the film Spotlight, which looks at revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, said he thought the lack of diversity was "terrible" and that he supported those boycotting the ceremony, though he would still attend himself.

"I've been really struggling with it myself because I do a lot with 'Black Lives Matter' and I'm really struggling because I would in essence probably really seriously think about joining them," he told the Press Association.

"Except I'm in a movie that's representing a whole other group of disenfranchised people who have no voice in the world and this movie means so much to them.

"And so I totally get it and I support them but I have to demur and I have to stand up for the people I have to stand up for."

Even the New York Post acknowledged the controversy in a front page headline on Thursday about a impending blizzard, declaring the coming weekend would be 'Whiter than the Oscars'.

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