Arts & Entertainment | Opinion

Doug George-Kanentiio: Oscar boycott ignores plight of Native people

Activist and actress Sacheen Littlefeather speaks at the Academy Awards in March 1973 in protest of the treatment of Native Americans in the film industry and by the federal government. Still image from Oscars / YouTube

Oscar protestors ignore other ethnic peoples
By Doug George-Kanentiio

There is a movement among some African American actors to boycott the upcoming Oscar ceremony because, they believe, the exclusion of black nominees in any of the major categories represents racism within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

This despite the fact that the president of the AMPAS Cheryl Boone Isaacs is black and many of the recent nominees and recipients from Denzel Washington to Jennifer Hudson are African in origin. When they accepted their awards there were no cries of racism then but universal pride in their respective performances.

Among the most vocal accusers is Jada Pinkett Smith the wife of actor Will Smith who was excluded from the list of nominees. There seems to be more than a little vindictiveness in her anger. If the AMPAS is so rife with racists perhaps Ms. Smith should enlist Washington, Hudson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Sidney Portier, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Lou Gossett Jr., Mo'nique, Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong'o, Octavia Spencer Jamie Foxx in her ranks; she could ask them to return their Oscars as a sign of solidarity.

That won't happen and those who are pressuring the Academy are missing an opportunity to actually press for inclusion of other ethnic peoples from the nominations. In the narrowness of their vision they don't see Asians, Hispanics or Indigenous peoples at all and that undermines their arguments and removes any standing they nave have to represent anyone other than themselves.

There is a clear need for inclusion in the movie industry but this will happen by forming alliances and acting in unity, not as someone who has derived great material wealth from that very activity they now deplore.

Leonard DiCaprio with Isaiah Tootoosis and Isaiah's aunt Barbara Barbara on the set of The Reverent in California. Photo by Disa Tootoosis / Instagram

And there are actors, producers and directors sensitive to the lack of diversity in this most powerful of mediums. Leonardo DiCaprio, the winner of a Golden Globe on January 10 for his performance in The Revenant and a nominee for Best Actor by the Academy said this in support of Native people:
"And lastly, I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations."

DiCaprio gets it. He has used his time and standing to take an active role in addressing climate change and the deplorable living conditions which characterize the lives of most indigenous peoples in the Americas. He has met with Native leaders and absorbed our philosophies and ideals. He has come to acknowledge that the survival of human beings as a species will be determined by our collective adherence to natural law best exemplified by the traditional teachings of this land's first peoples.

DiCaprio uses his influence in a positive and creative manner, one which fosters understanding and actual movement towards reconciliation and peace.

That is the way to get things done without bitterness or resentment, without rancor or fear. The Oscars can serve to address social issues as has been done in many acceptance speeches but is best done, in a Native manner, with grace and dignity.

To demand that any ethnic group has to have a set number of nominations in order to satisfy their demands is unacceptable.

Native people are the least represented and the most stereotyped of all: if any group has any grounds to raise their voices in protest we do.

And we are honored when artists of integrity, such as Mr. DiCaprio, carry our words to the four directions with urgency, power and light.

Doug George-Kanentiio is an Akwesasne Mohawk currently residing on Oneida Territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.

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