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It’s Time for Hollywood to Act Like Diversity Matters

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“Diversity is basically a description of independence. Diversity is what moves the ball for me, and I thought ‘give people a chance that have different points of view. Let the audience decide whether they like it or not. But give those voices a chance to be seen and heard.’” – Robert Redford, actor, director, and co-founder of Sundance Film Festival

(NNPA) Hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the 87th annual Academy Awards ceremony, better known as the Oscars, will either best be remembered for the uproar incited by this year’s homogenous nominations, or as a seminal moment for change in the Academy’s long, non-inclusive history.

For the first time since 1998, the stage has been set for our nation to celebrate its least diverse Oscars. In a year that saw Oscar-worthy turns from several actors of color, none were nominated in the acting categories, with all 20 acting nominations going to White actors. But the story doesn’t end there. Not a single woman stood among the five directors and 14 screenwriters nominated in those categories.

In a nation where nearly 51 percent of the population is female, how can formidable directors like Ava DuVernay for “Selma” and Angelina Jolie for “Unbroken” find themselves on the cutting room floor of the nomination selection? In a nation where, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, “Some 43% of Millennial adults are non-white, the highest share of any generation,” how does the Academy’s nominees not reflect Hollywood’s audience base or the nation in which we live?

In response to the outcry surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American and third female president of the Academy, spoke to the Associated Press and pointed to progress in the Academy’s efforts to reflect our nation’s diverse, movie-going audience. She noted, “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” adding, “I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

I share her vision, but the question remains of when those words will be put into a plan of action – and championed by the broader industry.

A much-cited 2012 survey of the Academy by the Los Angeles Times demonstrates the crux of the problem. According to the survey, the estimated 7,000 Academy members are 94 percent White, 77 percent male and have a median age of 62 – hardly a representative reflection of the nation.

While my role is not to question the film credentials of the Academy’s members, I do question the ability of such a homogenous body to reflect the perspectives, lives, and stories of a diverse pool of moviemakers – and moviegoers. I would also question the ability of the Academy to monitor itself and become a more inclusive body without the pressure of public scrutiny and advocacy.

Here are a few things to note about Academy membership: membership is “limited to film artists working in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures…The Academy’s membership process is by sponsorship, not application. Candidates must be sponsored by two Academy members from the branch to which the candidate seeks admission. Additionally, Academy Award nominees are automatically considered for membership and do not require sponsors…The Board decides which individuals will receive invitations.”

The Academy’s membership requirements are both an indictment and call to action. When women and minorities are snubbed at the Oscars, it means much more than wounded gender or ethnic pride. It means that we, as a nation, have lost an opportunity to reflect our unique diversity via a medium that touches so many of our lives. It means we have lost another seat at the proverbial Oscar table.

This is about more than awards deferred; it is about dreams deferred. It is about the lack of racial and gender diversity we find both behind the screen and in front of it. It is about the inevitable way the Academy’s membership roll directly influences who gets nominated and who wins. What it is not about is an unfair advantage, but instead, a fair chance to have the work of a wider swath of our filmmakers, casts and crews considered. That must begin with a significant change in the composition of the Academy.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the strides the Academy has begun to make to address its diversity issues. Hiring Boone Isaacs as its president was an important step on the road to diversifying, and her decision to remove a cap on the number of Academy members and push for Academy members to invite a more diverse pool of people to apply are the first of many important steps that must be taken on the journey towards inclusion. But more must be done. Progress rarely comes as a result of being passive. I urge you to join me in efforts to ensure more inclusion in Hollywood so that we can look back on the 2015 Oscars as the catalyst that spurred action for much-needed industry reform.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Nigeria at a Crossroad

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By Lekan Oguntoyinbo
NNPA Columnist

Nigeria, Africa’s so-called giant and the world’s biggest Black nation, is in the news again. And as usual, much of the world is watching with considerable trepidation. On February 14, voters in this West African nation of 170 million people will go to the polls to pick a president. There are two frontrunners and for many voters it will be a tough choice.

The incumbent, a poor manager and weak leader with the curious name of Goodluck Jonathan, is running for his second and, presumably, final term. Jonathan, who has a well-earned reputation as a do-nothing president, came into office in 2010 when his ailing predecessor died in office. Despite pledging to only serve out his predecessor’s term, he ran in 2011. Now, despite a pledge to serve only one full-term, he is running again.

His opponent, Mohammed Buhari, is a septuagenarian former army general who wants his old job back. In the early 1980s, he helped overthrow a democratically-elected government and ruled Nigeria as military dictator for nearly two years. Some credit Buhari for running a government that imposed discipline on a notoriously wayward society. But many critics also remember a man who presided over a regime that muzzled the press, held people in prison without trial for long stretches and showed contempt for human rights.

Buhari says he’s now a reformed man, a committed democrat dedicated not only to the rule of law but to due process, liberty and justice. He won’t be the first former Nigerian military dictator to try to take over the reins of power once more. In 1999, another ex-general, who served as military dictator in the late ‘70s, was elected president. As his second term drew to a close, he tried to ram through a constitutional amendment that would have given him a third term (Nigeria’s constitution is modeled after that of the United States). Thankfully, he failed.

Four years earlier, another former military dictator credited with doing so much to ruin the country tried unsuccessfully to sneak back into office.

It’s not the first time Buhari has tried to get his old job back. In 2011, he ran against Jonathan and lost a race that observers failed to declare free and fair. His supporters rioted for weeks. Thousands of people died.

Nigeria has been a democratic country for less than half the 54 years it’s been independent from Great Britain. Free and fair elections are the exception, not the norm.

But now the stakes are much higher. Many analysts believe Buhari is a much stronger – and smarter candidate this time around. And more Nigerians have come to recognize that Jonathan may not be up to the job.

In the five years Jonathan has been in office, attacks in the northeastern region of the country by the terrorist group Boko Haram have intensified. Nigeria’s ill-equipped and poorly trained military has tried to fight back but it is clear that they are no match for the Islamic terrorists. Human rights group estimate that about 10,000 people have been killed in the last five years, but the number is likely much higher.

A few weeks ago – around the same time that the world was mourning the deaths of 17 French citizens killed by terrorists – Boko Haram soldiers marched through a section of one state, sacking numerous towns and villages and burning them to the ground. At least 2,000 people were estimated to have been killed. The massacre commanded only a fraction of the attention given the killings in Paris. World leaders did not converge on the Nigerian capital Abuja for a solidarity march.

Weeks went by and Nigeria’s president did not utter a word –and neither did Buhari.

In the meantime, the conflict with Boko Haram has drawn in several neighboring countries, including Niger, Cameroon and Chad. Nigeria is the rock of the West African subcontinent. It is the region’s wealthiest and most powerful country. It is one of the world’s three fastest-growing economies. It is also of vital strategic and economic importance to the United States and many other leading industrial nations.

Nigeria is one of the biggest oil suppliers to the United States. Constant flow of oil from the delta region helps keep prices at the pump relatively low here. For decades, Nigeria has played a key role in peacekeeping efforts in Africa and around the world. Nigeria is also a reliable ally of the United States in the so-called war against terrorism. There is some concern that post-election unrest could destabilize Nigeria. With destabilization could come a domino effect for many nearby nations – and ultimately for the rest of the world.

Even in a country with a long history of flawed elections, every election is important. But this election is particularly important – for Nigeria and the rest of the world.

Lekan Oguntoyinbo, a national award-winning writer, is an independent journalist. Contact him at oguntoyinbo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @oguntoyinbo.

Netanyahu and Republicans Beating the Drums of War

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(NNPA) We need to see beyond petty insults. The fact that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) chose to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without coordinating this with the White House was bad enough. It was a snub and everyone knows that. Yes, it was an insult. What is actually more important is that the Republican majority, along with Netanyahu, wish to take the U.S. into a war with Iran. That is what we must understand.

The U.S.A., along with several other countries, are engaged in very tricky negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. The U.S. and Israel assert that the Iranians wish to build nuclear weapons. No proof has ever been provided to that effect. The Iranians, signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, assert that they aim to build a nuclear program for peaceful energy purposes.

Netanyahu has been egging the U.S. n for years to take military action against Iran. Such action would be both illegal and immoral. There is no foundation for an attack, particularly since the only nuclear power in the Middle East is Israel, a country that is a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a possessor of more than 100 nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Netanyahu and his allies in the Republican Party believe that Iran must be pushed to the wall. Further sanctions, as President Obama argued, will do nothing but destabilize the negotiations, which is precisely what Netanyahu wishes to accomplish. If the negotiations break down, then there is a good chance that there will be war.

Now, for a moment, let’s consider the implications. Please, step away from this column and get a map of the Middle East. Currently there is a civil war in Syria. The U.S. is involved. There is a civil war in Iraq. The U.S.A. is involved. There is a civil war in Libya. The U.S.helped to bring that about. There is instability in Bahrain. The U.S. has a fleet stationed there and has done nothing to mediate the crisis. There are more hot spots that can be added to this list. Given this, how could the USA even consider military action against Iran?

You might notice that I keep referencing Prime Minister Netanyahu singularly. That is because there is a split within the Israeli political class that is becoming evident. Recent reports have indicated that the Israeli security service – the Mossad — opposes an attack on Iran. So does the U.S. military. Yet, the Republicans in Congress and their friend Netanyahu are prepared to cry wolf, and let slip the dogs of war.

They know, better than us that they will have little price to pay for such irresponsible actions. You and I, instead, will pay the price, particularly when we view the body bags returning home.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Nigeria is Headed down the Road to Disaster

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(NNPA) Nigeria has the largest Black population in the world – 178 million. Within that population are 300 differing ethnic and culture groups. Traditionally, colonial powers such as England, would pit various ethnicities against one another to provide confusion and controversy. A confused populace was much easier to exploit and colonize. To call Nigeria confused is an understatement.

The largest group lives in the southwestern part of the nation and is known as the Yoruba. They have a control system managed mainly by monarchs and are successful politically. Another large group is the Igbo, which populates the southern Delta area known for its oil exploration. The third largest group is the Hausa – Fulani, which is basically Muslim and locally run by Emirs.

With the oil industry as its financial base, the Igbo decided in 1967 that they would go it alone and part from the government of Nigeria. Thus, the great Civil War of 1967 was begun. This became one of the bloodiest conflicts known to mankind. The Yoruba cut off the supply lines to Igbo country known as Biafra. At the end of the conflict, 1970, more than 1 million Igbo had died mostly from starvation during this time as the rest of the world ignored it all. The nation has kept in original formation but the tribal chasms remain.

In contrast to the Delta oil region, the northern Chad Lake Basin has discovered viable oil reserves and when the high price of oil returns, you will see an extreme amount of exploration. The Hausa – Fulani control this segment and they have plan of sharing it. Besides, the other major groups, the bordering nations of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, have their ideas about exploiting it. This is the major problem versus peace.

The Hausa – Fulani is becoming more and more Jihadist. The major negative activity is that of the Boko Haram whose mission is to form an Islamic state right over the Chad Lake Basin. They are starting a cleansing process through roving groups of murderers and ethnic cleansing. The Boko Haram is as lethal and as vicious as the ISIS organization in the Middle East.

This group was founded in 2002 by an educated, well-dressed gentleman named Mohamad Yusuf. After his death in 2009, Abubaker Shekau replaced him. In a sharp contrast, the new leader is a “butcher” with dreams of genocide. His funding is mysterious but one can bet it’s coming from the Middle East. With the oil revenue implications, it can also be coming from secretive corporate means or Intel Operandi such as the CIA, European and Middle Eastern counterparts and even the Israeli Mossud.

Boko Haram is growing and is unchecked by the Nigerian Army. This army is inept and corrupt. You don’t know what you get whenever the Army starts to move. There have been more than a few reports of atrocities committed by the Nigerian Army on its own people. Tribal rift and revenge often come into play.

Adding to an unreliable military is the political climate. For the first time in decades, President Goodluck Johnathan’s party is being seriously challenged in the upcoming elections. If the incumbent is defeated, there is a big question: Will he step aside? If not, major chaos throughout the nation will erupt.

At the same time, Boko Haram will reap massacre on the Chad Lake Basin area. That will invite the armies of Chad, Niger and Cameroon to step in and add to the carnage. If this develops into a major, long-term military/revolutionary struggle, I wonder which nation or group of nations can come in and settle the situation. The U.S. military is already strained with the debacles in the Middle East. Our European allies lack the backbone to get serious about a major war.

If there are religious and/or tribal implications, it will be an exhaustive experience. Financing it will be no problem for the “bad guys” and the bad guys could be on all sides of the struggle. No one will win and the world will suffer. The entire African Diaspora will become pre-occupied and current progressive projects will be put on hold.

Our State Department has shown no viable strategy in this above mess. The UN has provided token input or leadership. Right now, the situation reminds us of Iraq just before ISIS came storming through at the shock and dismay of President Obama. What we have is a large swath of land, well populated and about to boil over. The commercial activity of Nigeria may come to a big halt and it will take years and perhaps a few million deaths before some semblance of responsibility and good governance arrives. Is anyone listening?

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org

Terror in the Name of Religion

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(NNPA) It has been deeply disturbing to hear and read suggestions that there is something inherently violent in Islam that distinguishes it from other religions. It is also a false notion, and one which we must dispel immediately.

Let’s start with the obvious facts. Islam has somewhere around 1.2 billion followers on planet Earth. All one has to do is to count the number of terrorists who have been involved in various actions over the years to see that we are talking about a minuscule percentage of adherents to extremism. The recent killings in France involved less than a dozen terrorists, for instance.

Thus, a reasonable person would ask who, in their right mind, would suggest that on the basis of such small numbers, that an entire religion is extreme, violent and outside of the human family? The answer is that this is not about being in one’s right mind; it is about a political agenda that wishes to demonize a religion plus suppress any and all discussions about the foreign policies of Western countries toward the Arab and Muslim Worlds.

Let’s think about another religion. Consider for a moment that official Christianity endorsed the slave trade. What conclusions should we draw from that? Here’s another example: What about the Ku Klux Klan that, again, in the name of Christianity, carried out open terrorist warfare against African Americans and their allies. What are the implications of this for Christianity? These are only three examples, but one can go on with many more. Rarely do I hear such a discussion in the mainstream media. How can anyone suggest that Islam is any more violent than any other religion or, more specifically, how can anyone suggest that religious extremism is somehow limited to adherents of Islam?

The simple answer is that one cannot. Unless one wishes to ignore key facts, it does not add up. But if you need one more story to convince you that we should be very careful about allegations suggesting that Islam is particularly violent, consider this. When the Mongols invaded Europe in the 1200s, they caught Eastern Europe by surprise. The Europeans did not know who the Mongols were and they could not figure out how to stop them, given the superiority of the military approach of the Mongols.

The Christian East Europeans concluded that the Mongols were actually devils, of some sort, and that they had been sent to Europe to destroy the Christians. Guess who they blamed for this? Jews. And, as a result, massive pogroms (lynchings) of Jews took place, including the incineration of entire villages of Jews.

The point here is not an attack on Christianity. In every religion there are examples of extremism in the name of that religion. Hindu extremists in India have attacked Indian Muslims as well as promoted the development of India’s nuclear weapons. Irish Protestants carried out terror attacks against Irish Catholics for decades in the name of religion. Extremism is not limited to one religion; it can always fly the banner of this or that religion in order to advance its nefarious objectives. For this reason we should step away from blind, ahistorical indictments of a religion because of the insane actions of some who would use its name.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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