Meet the Woman Who Started #OscarsSoWhite

In 2015, April Reign tweeted “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.” A year later, the hashtag was at the center of a national debate over inclusion in Hollywood. Here’s what she had to say about it all.

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Mar 1 2016, 2:00pm

Screengrab via YouTube

It's no secret that Hollywood has an inclusion problem—an issue the creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has been attempting to combat since she first tweeted "#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair" last year.

In January 2015, after realizing that not a single actor of color or female director was included amongst the nominees, April Regin—a writer, editor, and former lawyer who lives in Washington, DC—took to Twitter to jokingly mock the Oscars' lack of representation. As soon as the tweet hit the Internet, though, it took on a life of its own: The hashtag quickly became a way for Twitter users all over to criticize all of Hollywood for failing to include historically marginalized people in its ranks.

This year, after the Academy nominated all white actors for the second year in a row, Reign's hashtag took off again. And this time around, the calls for diversity went beyond Twitter. Even Chris Rock, who hosted the show, had something to say about #OscarsSoWhite.

Although the 88th annual Academy Awards are now over, the fight over who "belongs" certainly isn't. We recently caught up with Reign to see what she had to say about it all.

Broadly: I'm sure you're probably so over this question, but why did you start the hashtag?
April Reign: Oh God, I literally have answered this question over a hundred and fifty times in the last week: I tweeted #OscarsSoWhite because I was disappointed and frustrated with the lack of marginalized communities being represented by the Oscars nominees in 2015.

I was disappointed and frustrated with the lack of marginalized communities being represented by the Oscars nominees in 2015.

And then this year was just as bad...
If not worse.

So, you didn't watch the Oscars, did you?
No. I was engaged in alternate programming.

Yeah, I read somewhere that you called for people to livetweet the classic film The Wood instead of watching the awards. Why did you choose that film?
Because it is a coming of age story, following three young boys grow into men, one of whom is getting married, and I think it's [a film] that can resonate with everyone.

Personally, I love it, but don't know how familiar those outside of the black community are with the film.
That's kind of the point, though, isn't it? I chose it because I believe that quality films should be supported by everyone, regardless of what you bring to the table with respect to your personal lens. We used Coming To America last year. A film that, regardless of race, or sexual orientation, or gender, or age, everyone knows and loves, [from which] everyone has a favorite scene or quotable, and it has a majority black cast. So [I felt] similarly with The Wood: Most people should be able to resonate with a coming of age story regardless of what the actors on the screen look like.

#OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign. Photo courtesy of subject.

Have you seen or read about any of the notable moments from the show?
I saw a couple minutes of Rock's monologue—I haven't seen the whole thing yet. It's my understanding that the [president] of the Academy spoke out about the lack of diversity; I know Leo [DiCaprio] won and gave a wonderful speech about climate change; I know [Alejandro González] Iñárritu won again—which is fantastic—and spoke about the diversity issue, but that's really about it, at this point.

I was hoping you could respond to the the Academy's reaction to being called out on their inclusion problem.
What I know is that they were scrambling to get more people of color to present awards—just as they did last year—to sort of downplay the the issue. I also know that not long before the broadcast began, [the Academy] released a picture of Chris Rock with his fist in the air, standing in front of one of those bigger than life statuettes, as if it were current—but it was actually eleven years old. So, the fight continues. It wasn't necessary for me to watch the awards, but I do know that Variety has reported that the numbers for the viewership were down even more than they were last year, so I think that the Academy is going to have to sit up and take notice, as will Hollywood, that people who are concerned with the lack of representation of marginalized communities in film will no longer sit quietly, and will continue to keep up the pressure.

People who are concerned with the lack of representation of marginalized communities in film will no longer sit quietly

And to be clear, #OscarsSoWhite is about all marginalized communities, not just the black community, right? Because I did catch some of the show last night, and at times it seemed as if Chris Rock and the sketches in between award presentations were responding to this idea that the Oscars aren't black enough, as opposed to the broader inclusive thinking behind #OscarsSoWhite.
I'm not sure how much clearer I can make it. The hashtag is over a year old, and from the very beginning—I would challenge anyone to find any article or interview of mine in which I said anything but that this was about all marginalized communities. And not just all races, either—it's also about gender, it's also about the differently abled, it's also about sexual orientation, it's also about indigenous communities... I've given specific examples of that. For example, I mentioned this several times, but Eddie Redmayne was nominated for playing a trans woman in The Danish Girl. Why couldn't that have been an actual trans woman, playing that role? That's definitely not a race issue.

Similarly, the movie Carol, in which two women are involved in a romantic relationship: great film, but why couldn't one of those women have been an open member of the LGBTQ community, and have the opportunity to draw from her own frame of reference and make the story even richer? That's a sexual orientation issue. That has nothing to do with race.

I've also spoken about various casting decisions, and named specific names: So for a movie like The Martian, which was great with Matt Damon, but there's nothing to say that a person of color—Jamie Foxx, or Andy Garcia, or Javier Bardem, any number of men of color—couldn't have played that role.

I have never focused this solely on race, and I definitely have never focused this solely on the black race. I'm not sure if people are misconstruing that because I am a black woman, but I have attempted to be as inclusive as I possibly can—even when I was a bit trepidatious, because as a straight, black, able-bodied woman, I wasn't sure that it was even my place to speak on behalf of inclusion of some of the other marginalized communities, of which I am not a part.

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