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Steve McQueen Hopes Oscar Diversity Backlash Can Be a ‘Watershed Moment’

“12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen has weighed in on the ongoing controversy surrounding the lack of non-white acting nominees at the 2016 Oscars, saying he hopes it will be a “watershed moment” for the industry.

“Hopefully, when people look back at this in 20 years, it’ll be like seeing that David Bowie clip in 1983.” McQueen said in an interview with the Guardian, referring to an interview Bowie did with MTV where he slammed the network for not showing enough music videos with black artists, which has recirculated following Bowie’s recent death. “Forgive me; I’m hoping in 12 months or so we can look back and say this was a watershed moment, and thank God we put that right.”

McQueen became the first, and currently only, black director to win a best picture Oscar when “12 Years a Slave” took home the gold in 2014.  Lupita Nyong’o also won best supporting actress for her role in the film. In the two years since, however, all the nominees in the Oscars’ acting categories have been white.

Continuing to use MTV as a comparison, McQueen said, “This is exactly like MTV was in the 1980s. Could you imagine now if MTV only showed music videos by a majority of white people, then after 11 o’clock it showed a majority of black people? Could you imagine that happening now? It’s the same situation happening in the movies.”

McQueen doesn’t blame the Academy alone, though, which recently announced a sweeping reform of its membership policies to allow for a more diverse membership. The “real battle” lies in the movies that hit theaters, the filmmaker maintained.

“One could talk about percentages of certain people who are Academy members and the demographics and so forth, but the real issue is movies being made,” he said. “Decisions being made by heads of studios, TV companies and cable companies about what is and is not being made. That is the start. That is the root of the problem.”

The Oscar winner also addressed the lack of diversity behind the camera, which he attempted to remedy on the set of “12 Years.”

“I expressly said in a meeting, ‘Look, I can’t make this movie in a situation where I don’t see any black faces other than my own behind the camera. We need to employ certain people.’ I made that very clear and it was attended to,” he said. Two black assistant directors went on to work on the drama.

McQueen is only the latest to add his voice into the fray. Spike Lee and husband and wife Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have announced that they will not be attending the show for its lack of diverse nominees, and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was revived after first catching fire last year. Meanwhile, Charlotte Rampling, nominated for her role in “45 Years,” accused the backlash of being “racist against whites.”

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