Steven Spielberg is perhaps the most celebrated living figure in the Hollywood community, and his response to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy is going to carry a lot of weight.
The famed director gave his take on the controversy, the Academy's new rules to address it and what he'd change when he participated in The Hollywood Reporter's "Awards Chatter" podcast, recorded on Monday.
"I'm a huge supporter of the Academy Awards," says Spielberg. "I was surprised at some of the individuals who were not nominated. I was surprised at [the exclusion of] Idris [Elba] — I was surprised at that. I think that was one of the best performances in the supporting actor and the actor category, was Idris [for Beasts of No Nation]. I've seen Straight Outta Compton — my wife and I saw it when it first opened, the first weekend, and it just rocked our world. It was incredible. I was very surprised to see that omission."
However, Spielberg is not in favor of the Academy's new rules about revoking lifetime membership if you haven't received an Oscar nomination. "I don't believe that there is inherent or dormant racism because of the amount of white Academy members. I'm also not 100 percent sure that taking votes away from Academy members who have paid their dues and maybe are retired now and have done great service, " he said. "Maybe they've not won a nomination, which would have given them immunity to the new rules, but they have served proudly and this is their industry too — to strip their votes? I'm not 100 percent behind that."
Spielberg explains that for real change to take place, it will have to begin at the studios. "I do think that what the Academy is doing, in a proactive way, to open up the membership to diversity, I think that's very, very important," he said. "But it's not just the Academy, and I think we have to stop pointing fingers and blaming the Academy. It's people that hire, it's people at the main gate of studios and independents. It's the stories that are being told. it's who's writing diversity — it starts on the page. And we all have to be more proactive in getting out there and just seeking talent."
Spielberg also suggests that to address the Academy's specific habit of excluding the work of people of color there should be some sort of campaign reform in the awards process. "I'm not gonna sit here and say we should have campaign finance limits the way John McCain was asking for them a couple of years ago during a political cycle. But I do think the amount of, let's just call it 'gifts,' the amount of 'enticements,' should be reduced to zero," he said. "Thing I'm against the most are enticements — people sending elaborate brochures and baskets. I think sending out a DVD of your movie is all we should be doing and nothing beyond that. Not the dinners and anything else."
The 88th annual Academy Awards air Feb. 28 at 7/6c on ABC.