By Cynthia Littleton, Variety (January 24, 2017)
Jada Pinkett Smith was one of the loudest voices in the industry last year decrying the lack of diversity in the 2016 and 2015 Academy Awards competitions. This year, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters set a record with nominations for six black actors, as well as gains in the best picture, feature documentary, and directing races.
Smith, an actress, director, and producer most recently seen in the Fox drama “Gotham,” who will costar in the Universal comedy “Girl’s Trip” this summer, told Variety she was gratified by the recognition for African-American artists this time around.
“I feel really fantastic. It’s a beautiful thing to see,” Smith said. “We had a lot of exceptional films this year. I’m glad to see that projects like ‘Hidden Figures,’ ‘Fences,’ and ‘Moonlight’ are getting recognition. I’m very proud this morning.”
Smith, who is married to two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith, stressed the importance of awards recognition as a benchmark of excellence in the industry. And the annual Oscar race has implications beyond bragging rights for Hollywood insiders.
“Because of the state that our country is in, as artists it’s so important we use our platform to help shine light on how we want to be identified as a country,” Smith said. “I look at this as a beautiful step towards that. Just our participation as artists in this time of how we want to represent our country, what is the messaging we want the world to see. As artists we have strong voices. We create strong imagery in regards to the identity of our country. It’s important that we take responsibility for that.”
Smith added that the industry still has a great deal of work to do to cement lasting change throughout all aspects of film and TV. But Tuesday’s nominations tally is a good sign that awareness and openness to new voices, such as director Barry Jenkins of “Moonlight” — after two years of virtually monochrome Oscar nominations — has greatly improved after the “Oscars So White” outcry.
“I’m very proud to be part of the artistic community today,” she said. “We have a ways to go, but we’ve also come a long way. We’ve come a long way as a country, and we’re going to keep stepping.”