Former Academy President Challenges Hollywood on Diversity

Hawk Koch releases open letter in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite outrage

Hawk Koch, former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, has penned an open letter calling on Hollywood to incorporate more diversity into the entertainment industry.

“Lately I – along with many others – have been thinking long and hard about the dearth of diversity within our industry,” Koch’s letter began. “I say ‘our industry’ because I don’t believe this is just an Academy problem rather it’s an industry-wide problem and up until now we have not done a very good job.”

“And while I also don’t believe this problem can be solved quickly, I know that it can and should be solved…with effort by every single one of us but, it must be addressed immediately,” he continued.

Koch also addressed the Oscars boycott proposed by stars including Jada Pinkett Smith — with support from her “Concussion” actor husband Will Smith — saying that industry members should “actively work together to fix the problem with concrete steps.”

“I want to personally challenge each and every branch of our industry… to form committees whose sole purpose would be to imagine and create programs to extend opportunities to those without it,” Koch said.

Hollywood has come under fire for the second year in a row for failing to nominate a single actor of color in any of the Academy Awards acting categories.

On Monday director Spike Lee announced that he would not attend what he called the “lily-white Oscars.” Lee received an honorary Oscar from the Academy in November, and had been expected to appear on stage at next month’s ceremony.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, also an African American, issued a statement on Martin Luther King Day promising changes within the group.

“I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes,” Isaacs said.

Read Koch’s full letter below.

I am a former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and volunteer on several committees, although I am no longer on the Board of Governors and have no governing powers. After working for more than 50 years in the entertainment business, I have an abiding passion for the work we do. This personal letter arises out of that passion.

Lately I – along with many others – have been thinking long and hard about the dearth of diversity within our industry. I say “our industry” because I don’t believe this is just an Academy problem rather it’s an industry-wide problem and up until now we have not done a very good job. And while I also don’t believe this problem can be solved quickly, I know that it can and should be solved…with effort by every single one of us but, it must be addressed immediately.

One such effort is the suggestion of an Oscar boycott. While such an idea shines a necessary light on the issue, now more than ever we have the responsibility to actively work together to fix the problem with concrete steps. “How do we do that?”

I know that many programs already exist but, clearly our industry needs to do more to find and develop talent in all the crafts. We must work with the Unions and the Guilds as well as schools across the country to identify and cultivate the talent of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, LGBTs, the disabled and all under represented groups. And then we have to allow them access to every single aspect of filmmaking.

We are an industry of creative people, people! We should be able to use the very thing Idris Elba mentioned in his powerful speech to the British Parliament — our imagination. He also mentioned that the world is full of talented people whose only problem – and it’s a big one — is lack of opportunity.

I want to personally challenge each and every branch of our industry — production, designers, cinematographers, sound mixers, editors, composers, makeup artists, hair stylists, casting directors, publicists, attorneys, agents,
managers, animators, visual effects, writers, directors, producers, executives — to form committees whose sole purpose would be to imagine and create programs to extend opportunities to those without it.

To you, the individual reading this letter, can you imagine a way to extend a hand or create an opportunity in your particular area of expertise to someone who might not otherwise have access? And if you can, are you willing to take the next step by participating in making our industry wider, broader, more colorful and far more inclusive than it is today…what it should be!

After all my years in the industry, I know the quality of its’ members and I trust that you will.
Sincerely,
Hawk

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