Sundance: Robert Redford Talks Hollywood’s Diversity Problem, Dodges White Oscars Questions

Sundance Film Festival Opening Conference Live

Robert Redford kicked off his annual Sundance press conference on Thursday afternoon by talking about the state of the independent film world and new distribution models that have upended the system.

But didn’t have much to add about the controversy surrounding this year’s all-white Oscar nominations. “I’m not into Oscars,” Redford said. “I’m not into that.”

A few minutes later, he tried to clarify his response. “I see the headline—I don’t like the Oscars,” Redford joked. “That’s for Donald Trump to say. What I mean is I’m not focused on that part. For me, it’s about the work.”

Redford talked about why he started Sundance 32 years ago, as a place to find new voices. “First of all, I’d like to straighten something out,” Redford said. “There’s a tendency to label things and subjugate ideas. I’m not against the mainstream. I’m happily part of that.” He wanted to offer the Sundance crowd an alternative to the mainstream tentpoles. “Audiences were coming up here, Utah, to see things they couldn’t see in the marketplace.”

He stressed the importance of Sundance as a place to launch documentaries—among this year’s more prominent titles are “Under the Gun” (about gun rights in the United States) and “Weiner” (about the disgraced congressman’s failed bid to run as mayor of New York). “On a personal level, I’ve always been a huge fan of documentaries,” he said. He wanted the festival to serve as “a platform to elevate docs and see they are much closer to narrative films.”

For the second year in a row, only white actors were nominated in the four acting category at the Oscars, which has prompted calls for a boycott from Spike Lee as well as Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. When asked about the nominations, Redford addressed the topic of diversity in Hollywood obliquely. “Diversity comes out of the word independence. It’s a word I operate from principally for most of my life. Diversity comes out of it. It’s an automatic thing. If you’re independent minded, you’re going to do things different than the common form; that’s something we’re genuinely proud of—how we show diversity because it’s tied to the fundamental word of independent.” He added that it’s up to the artsts to explore the theme. “We don’t take a position of advocacy.”

Redford also spoke to the challenges facing the independent film world. “It’s tough for films in general. There are threats to distribution. You’ve got streaming. You’ve got online. You’ve got Netflix.”

He was blunt about the state of art house cinema, saying, “independent film is not in a good place…it survives because it has value, but it’s always been tough.” Financing has always been hard to secure, he noted.

Asked about how Redford planned to spend the week and a half long festival, the notoriously private Sundance founder was tight-lipped.

“I’m not going to tell ya,” he said.

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  1. CC says:

    “WHY” must most, if not ALL of the Oscar winners be democrat??? Are you people “Predjudice” against Republicans!!? You ALL gotta first class ticket to HELL!!!

  2. Ted says:

    There is plenty of diversity with this years’ nominees, the diversity just has nothing to do with being black. When did diversity become about blacks? This year we have Alejandro González Iñárritu, who is a monumentally talented Mexican film director, producer, screenwriter, and former composer, we have the story of a woman whose civil and human rights were denied her by being abducted and locked in a room, a brilliant young male actor in a thoughtfully written trans gender role, and an entire movie about aging, not to mention the awesome women’s roles. That IS diversity. Get over it! Will Smith should be thankful that the Men in Black and Bad Boys’ franchises prop up his career; and his wife — Who? (who cares). Spike Lee was the same screechy, self absorbed C+ talent when he complained that Driving Miss Daisy (RE a black elder and a white elder) won the Oscar over his sad little movie. God decides skin color and talent, it is not an Academy decision. But to expect to be pandered to because you have a tantrum and blame the color of your skin for your lack of talent — well Please. Stop boring us with the “give me — because I’m black’ act. Everyone is color blind today, and the words prejudice and diversity have NOTHING to do with being black. If you don’t like the way you are treated get out of the business and make room for others — regardless of their race or gender or creed.

  3. Jr says:

    The Bru haha is actually reverse racism…saying, in effect, that all the voters are racist. I don’t buy that. Would having a separate category for Best Black Actor, make them happy? Probably not

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  5. bibol says:

    Just give every black an Oscar for being a black actor/actress. Then give Oscars for those that deserve it.

    • Jedi77 says:

      Oscars have never been asbout those who deserved it. Jack Palance springs to mind. Oscar worthy performance? Hardly. But a nice tribute to a man who was given his life to his craft.
      This year’s Jack Palance will probably be Sylvester Stallone.

      But I agree with your main point.
      It’s funny though, isn’t it, that no non-english speaking characters ever get nominated? I think the last one was Max von Sydow for the Danish film Pelle the Conqurer in like 1989.
      Are they really saying that no acting in any non english speaking film is as good as english speaking acting?
      I think that’s what they’re saying, and the rest of the world should boycot the Oscar’s!
      Also, where are the latino and asian nominees?

  6. pennyblog2011 says:

    Robert Redford is absolutely correct in saying “it’s about the work,” and Oscars are important precisely because they help determine who gets the work. Opportunities & income are both impacted when people receive Oscar nominations for their work (either onscreen &/or behind-the-scenes). So this should not be dismissed as a “Black/White Thing” when all women and all people of color continue to be marginalized during Awards Season. I applaud Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ plan to make AMPAS more representative in the future, but she needs to do something constructive NOW to keep the faith. Therefore, in the spirit of Truth & Reconciliation, I suggest she consider giving a long overdue Best Director Oscar to Loveleen Tandan–a woman of color–for her work on Slumdog Millionaire. The Dalton Trumbo case (now in multiplexes) dramatizes the fact that AMPAS has self-corrected in the past, so why not do it again? If you agree, then please join our #MakeOscarGold campaign. Thanks!

  7. TheBigBangof20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    Hollywood has a white ethnic problem it needs to sort out first before it addresses the snubs. There are other smaller minorities in the dream factory. Those not white enough who only exist as stereotypes.

    • Jedi77 says:

      Hollywood has an English-centric problem. Are you seriously saying that the acting in Son of Saul isn’t good enough for a nomination?
      No, but non-English speaking parts rarely get nominated.
      Should the rest of the world boycot the Oscar’s for that reason?

      Look, the people nominate those they can see themselves in. That’s all, it’s called human nature.

  8. Lisa says:

    Well, separating yourself from the Oscars when you’ve been nominated and won is just fine. But he really didn’t say anything except some rambling about independent film. Is he saying any film with minorities is independent? Sheesh, that’s even less inclusive.

  9. Trevor says:

    Finally someone gets it. Thank god for Redford.

  10. Trevor says:

    Finally someone gets it.

  11. Donna says:

    Thank you for saying you are interested in the work not awards.

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