We spoke to the hip-hop mogul about the new All Def Movie Awards, which will honor Will Smith and Norman Lear, and feature categories such as "best helpful white person."
The Martian is the umpteenth movie in which Matt Damon has been rescued from something. Yet, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still thought it was more compelling than Straight Outta Compton, a movie that features Ice Cube smashing everything in sight at the offices of Priority Records with a wooden baseball until the execs finally agree to pay him his royalties. If Straight Outta Compton had received a best picture nod from the Academy, it would've been a refreshing change to yet another vanilla Oscar ceremony that is bent on highlighting painfully familiar films like The Martian. That's disregarding host Chris Rock, of course. Although I would argue that Rock is so black, the organizers had to cancel him out somehow...
The point is that Straight Outta Compton now has a receptive awards show, alongside the Will Smith-starring Concussion, Creed, and Dope. They're all up for best picture at the All Def Movie Awards, a show that combats Hollywood's chronic lack of diversity. Simmons announced the special earlier this month, and some have labeled it the "Black Oscars." Though Simmons doesn't care so much for that shorthand, the show has clear connections to the Academy Awards. It's broadcast on the same night, and it's being hosted at the TCL Chinese Theater, which is just down the street from the Dolby Theater that hosts the Oscars. The All Def Movie Awards will also be hosted by Chris Rock's younger brother Tony Rock. Simmons says the familial connection isn't intentional—Tony has been working with Simmons's All Def Digital for a while, and the idea for an awards show came from his recent comments to a TMZ reporter:
"I don't understand why black people have this undying need to wanna be down with white people all the time," Rock said in the video. "Why have we been kissing their asses for years to accept us and our music? Yo, fuck ya'll. Y'all don't like our music, y'all don't like our movies? We go over here and do our own awards show for our music and our movies and our culture—which they steal from anyway... Let's have a Black Oscars. Let's just do our own thing."
So Simmons has spent the past month putting together an awards show that does just that, replacing milquetoast categories like sound mixing and production design with punched-up substitutes such as "best bad muh fucka" and "best helpful white person." Although the hip-hop mogul is condensing months of work into weeks, Simmons's biggest endeavors have often thrived on a little chaos. Def Comedy Jam's vulgar showcases helped break comedians like Bernie Mac and Martin Lawrence, and despite office disorganization during its early days, Def Jam became the first music label to give commercial longevity to urban expression. With such a legacy behind Simmons, how much of a long shot is the All Def Movie Movie Awards? I called up Simmons late last week to ask the man himself. Here's what he had to say.
VICE: What inspired you to start the All Def Movie Awards?
Russell Simmons: From a business standpoint, Hollywood loses a lot by not being inclusive. It loses a fortune by not being inclusive. It only has Kevin Hart because it doesn't know the other black comedians, and when it does get a black comedian, it reaches around the ones who are hot in the hood and just decides to like some other comedian. I always point to Key and Peele. They're good. They're really funny. Their trailer for their movie looks really funny. But what saddens me is that it's like the music industry would not have picked Jay Z. When I first heard "Ain't No Nigga," [I put it on the Nutty Professor soundtrack]. But even if I hadn't done it, music doesn't need to be co-signed by a gatekeeper. But actors and comedians and directors and others do.
You cannot expect a 90-year-old white man to pick Straight Outta Compton. I did expect somebody to give Michael B. Jordan a nod [for Creed]. He could at least get a nod. Anyway, we did it because I was able to do it. I'm not upset with the Academy, I'm not upset with Hollywood—none of that. I think it's important to have this dialogue. I think, from a business standpoint, it's important that Hollywood evolves and becomes more inclusive of Asians, of women, of African-Americans—everybody. It has to be inclusive if it wants to do a good job of servicing America and the world.
Do you feel like Will Smith doesn't get enough credit these days?
I just think that Will Smith's a great guy for a lifetime achievement award. He's getting it for his body of work, from music until now. I mean, Forbes will tell you he's the most bankable [star]. He has been the most bankable for many years. So he's nominated [for best picture] with a great movie—he gave a great performance in Concussion.
Do you foresee urban, black culture being more accepted when it comes to TV? You have Empire, Black-ish, and Power. Does that give you a little bit more hope that we'll see more of this being accepted by the mainstream?
Well, I say that when it's hot, it's hot. I think networks—the WB, the CW, FOX, even HBO are all built on black content. And when you build those networks on black content, sometimes the executives move away from that content to what they're more comfortable with. And then sometimes they come back like FOX. They had to go back, and Empire put them back on the map. So it's just about being more inclusive.
Our research tells us integration is critical. And we have better research than TV because we're a digital company. So I have to make them integrate as well. So in different companies, I'm always talking about integration.
Rick Rubin, he's a great producer. He understood and loved hip-hop. Lyor Cohen loved hip-hop. I raised him to have the company he has today, 300 Entertainment. And he then raised a lot of other people. Friendships matter. You have to make friends with the world in order to really collaborate with them. It's a communications business, and everybody has to communicate. The people who came from me are mixed race, and the people I work with and people I hire are mixed race. I don't live in a segregated world despite the fact that the institution of Hollywood is still quite segregated.
You cannot expect a 90-year-old white man to pick Straight Outta Compton.
I know you say you're not directly competing with the Academy, but some people are calling it the "Black Oscars." What do you think about that label?
I don't want that label going forward. It's cultural, not racial. I understand why it's said. Look at the movies we chose—movies that we think have been snubbed or are not included in the process. Look at the actors, some of the directors—Ryan Coogler is a great director. Michael B. Jordan is a great actor. Straight Outta Compton was a great movie. So you know, it's not the "Black Oscars," but they're all movies and people of color. And younger movies. The audience is gonna choose the best picture.
Even ten years ago, would you even imagine a movie like Straight Outta Compton?
Yeah, I'd imagine that ten years ago. I'd imagine 45 years ago.
Def Jam, Def Comedy Jam, and now the All Def Movie Awards. What does Def mean in all of those instances?
Def is a very specific brand. It's hip-hop, it's urban, it's pop, it means something to everybody—I don't care if it's Def Poetry, or Def Comedy, or Def Music. Right away, you know the music, how it's gonna feel, what it's gonna feel like, you already know, the drama, you know what that's gonna feel like. You know what a Def Picture is, before you get there. Even if it's comedy or drama or whatever. You know it's based heavily in urban cool culture, and that's still a wide space in America. The [Academy] still misses the boat in many cases, and we hopefully will fill that void.
The All Def Movie Awards will air on Fusion as a one-hour special on Sunday at 7 PM.
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