Will Smith has confirmed that he will not be attending the Oscars in protest at the "lily-white acting nominations." His wife Jada Pinkett Smith is among the growing list of Hollywood stars who have decided to boycott the Academy Awards next month.
"My wife's not going. It would be awkward for me to show up with Charlize (Theron)," said Smith on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday 21 January). "We've discussed it, but at this current time, we're uncomfortable to stand there and say this is OK."
Smith said his decision was "deeply not about me." "This is about children that are going to sit down and they're going to watch the show and they're not going to see themselves represented," said Smith.
The actor, who has been nominated twice before, for 2001's "Ali" and 2006's "The Pursuit of Happyness," and would most likely have been a presenter at this year's event, said he believes the lack of representation of people of colour does not reflect the diversity of the US. Everyone is beautiful and deserving and is fantastic, but it feels like it's going the wrong direction," Smith said of this year's nominees
"The nominations reflect the Academy. The Academy reflects the industry [Hollywood] and then the industry reflects America," Smith said. "There is a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony and that's not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind. That's not the industry, that's not the America I want to leave behind," he added.
"Diversity is the American superpower. That's why we're great," said Smith. "When I look at the series of nominations of the academy, it's not reflecting that beauty."
On Monday, Pinkett Smith announced in a video message that she wouldn't be attending or watching the awards. She explained that it was time for "people of colour" to disregard the awards.
"Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power, and we are a dignified people and we are powerful. Let's let the academy do them, with all grace and love. And let's do us differently."
Will Smith insisted that his wife's decision to not attend this year's Oscars is not motivated by her disappointment that Smith did not receive a nomination for his role in "Concussion." "There's probably a part of that in there but, for Jada, had I been nominated and no other people of color were, she would have made the video anyway," Smith said. "We'd still be here having this conversation. This is so deeply not about me.
Mark Ruffalo, who is nominated for his performance in the newspaper drama "Spotlight," said he was also considering skipping the ceremony. "I'm weighing it, that's where I'm at right now," Ruffalo told BBC News. "I woke up in the morning thinking, 'What is the right way to do this?' Because if you look at Martin Luther King's legacy, what he was saying was that the good people who don't act are much worse than the wrongdoers who are purposefully not acting and don't know the right way."
Sky News reports that he later said he was "really sympathetic" to those who have criticised the Academy Awards but would be attending because he wants to represent the victims whose stories feature in the film.
Spike Lee had also stated that he would not be attending. In an angry Instagram post he wrote: "How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let's Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can't Act?! WTF!!"
He later clarified in an interview on Good Morning America: "I have never used the word boycott. All I said was ... my beautiful wife Tonya, we're not coming. That's it, and I gave the reasons. I never used the word boycott."
Stars including Dustin Hoffman, Lupita Nyong'o and George Clooney, David Oyelowo and Rafe Spall have waded into the debate, criticising the lack of ethnic diversity in this year's nominations.
However, others have suggested that the issue has been blown out of proportion. Clueless star Stacey Dash has described boycott calls as "ludicrous" while Janet Hubert who played Smith's on-screen Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, said boycotting the Oscars would be of little consequence.
"People are dying, being shot left and right, people are hungry, people are trying to pay bills and you're talking about actors and Oscars. It just ain't that deep," she said. "For you to ask other actors and actresses to jeopardise their career and standing in this town, you know damn well you don't do that. Here's the other thing - they don't care."
Chris Rock is due to host the ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles but has been facing calls from high-profile names to pull out. Rapper 50 Cent wrote on Instagram: "Please do not do the Oscars awards. You mean a lot man, don't do it. Please." Furious 7 actor Tyrese Gibson told People: " "There is no joke that he can crack. There is no way for him to seize the moment and come into this thing and say, 'I'm going to say this and say that I'm going to address the issue but then I'm still going to keep my gig as the host,'" Gibson tells PEOPLE. "The statement that you make is that you step down."
Following the furore, academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has pledged "dramatic changes" to diversity in the academy's membership. The New York Times reports that the Academy could be making an announcement on "measures aimed at making its Oscar choices more diverse" as early as next week. The newspaper speculated that one of the simplest changes would be to revert to expanding the Best Picture category back to 10 slots and increasing the number of acting nominees as well.
The Academy Awards take place on February 28 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, news of Smith's decision to boycott the annual awards sparked a similarly mixed reaction on social media.