David Oyelowo Slams the Academy in Speech to Its President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs

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Preach. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

On Monday, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced "drastic steps" to reform the lack of diversity in its membership following the second consecutive year in which not a single actor of color was nominated for an Oscar. And at a gala honoring Isaacs last night, one Academy member decided to hold Isaacs to her word. While presenting Isaacs with an award named after Rosa Parks, David Oyelowo went off-script to call out the Academy for its lack of representation, and to demand swifter action be done to fix it: "This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation."

Oyelowo says that after the Academy snubbed his performance in Selma last year, Isaacs met with him in private to "to talk about what went wrong then." He expected change, only to see an all-white field of actors once again celebrated this year: "We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable."

Using the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as an example of how fast systemic racism can be corrected, Oyelowo echoed Isaacs's suggestion that change has been embarrassingly slow: "The Academy is an institution in which they all say radical and timely change cannot happen quickly. It better happen quickly. The law of this country can change in a matter of months. It better come on. The Oscars is on February 28. Cheryl needs us to pray that, by that date, change is going to come."

Read Oyelowo's full speech, via The Hollywood Reporter, below:

"The Academy has a problem It’s a problem that needs to be solved.

A year ago, I did a film called Selma, and after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then,” he said. “We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.

A year ago, I did a film called Selma, and after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then,” he said. “We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.

This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.

We have a situation whereby currently the biggest movie in the world and of all time [Star Wars: The Force Awakens] is led by a black man. That film was knocked off the top spot this weekend by a film led by two black men, Ride Along 2. The biggest TV show on the planet is led by black people, Empire.

There was a photograph up here earlier, and it’s a photograph of Lyndon Johnson giving a pen that was used to sign the Voting Rights Act to Dr. King. The year before that photograph was taken, the Civil Rights Act was passed. It was started as an idea by JFK; LBJ used the sentiment at the loss of JFK’s life to bring about the Civil Rights Act being passed. When Dr. King said we need the Voting Rights Act to be passed, LBJ said it’s too soon, it can’t be done. People were losing their lives. People weren’t allowed to vote. Dr. King said [we cannot] wait. What was done was done not in years but months. The march from Selma to Montgomery, those marches began in January of 1965, and by March of ’65 the world was aware what was going on in Selma. By August of that year, the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The Academy is an institution in which they all say radical and timely change cannot happen quickly. It better happen quickly. The law of this country can change in a matter of months. It better come on. The Oscars is on February 28. Cheryl needs us to pray that by that date, change is going to come. We need to pray for Cheryl, we need to support Cheryl, we need to love Cheryl. We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get negative. But we must make our voice heard."