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Rev. Al Sharpton says Will Smith incident "overshadowed" diversity gains at the Oscars

In conversation with The A.V. Club, Rev. Sharpton talks about the gains since #OscarsSoWhite

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Reverend Al Sharpton
Reverend Al Sharpton
Photo: The AV Club

When it comes to racial equity in the United States, it can sometimes feel like we’re always moving one step forward and two steps back. However, as someone who’s been on the frontlines in the fight for racial equality in the United States for decades, Reverend Al Sharpton has a keen eye for seeing the forest through the trees. And when it comes to the Academy Awards, which continues to be a lightning rod for controversy surrounding diversity and representation, Rev. Sharpton sees progress.

In 2016, Rev. Sharpton held a protest against the Oscars, blasting the Academy’s overwhelmingly caucasian voting pool. The action took place at the height of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and in the time since that protest, things have certainly changed. Supporting his new documentary, Loudmouth Rev. Sharpton spoke to The A.V. Club about where we stand with the Oscars, especially in the wake of The Slap.

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Rev. Al Sharpton on #OscarsSoWhite, Will Smith, and what he learned from James Brown

“There’s been some progress, but it needs to go forward,” Sharpton said. “It cannot just be one time or two times, and we move backwards. But I think there has been some real progress.”

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However, while there has been some progress, the achievements last year for Black artists were “overshadowed” by the Will Smith-Chris Rock incident. “I’ve monitored the makeup of the Academy. I was happy to see Will Packer, senior producer [of the award show], last year. Questlove winning for Summer Of Soul. Then, of course, the Will Smith incident with Chris Rock overshadowed all that. So I think they’re moving in the right direction, but they’ve not, institutionally, arrived where they need to be yet.”

Sharpton’s sentiments come just as Will Smith returned to public life while promoting the slavery epic Emancipation for Apple TV+. “That was a horrific night, as you can imagine. You know, there’s many nuances and complexities to it,” Smith told The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. “But at the end of the day, I lost it, you know? I guess what I would say, you just never know what somebody is going through.”