#OscarsSoWhite Creator on Her Plan for Academy, Industry Change

The hashtag, which launched last year, resurfaced & flooded timelines

Frustrated by the lack of diversity of Academy Award nominees, D.C.-based journalist April Reign last year was the first to tweet the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, launching a campaign to change the Academy's nomination criteria and transform the film industry to reflect greater diversity.

This year, the hashtag flooded timelines again after the Oscar nominations were announced -- and showed a stunning lack of diversity. It was a theme that Oscar host Chris Rock returned to over and over again on Sunday night's telecast.

Reign spoke with NBC Washington about what inspired her to create the hashtag and how her campaign has developed.

NBC Washington: Tell us about the creation of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

[In] January of 2015, I was watching the Oscar nominations in my family room and was disappointed and frustrated in the lack of marginalized communities that were nominated for Oscar awards in that year; not only in the actor and actress categories, but also the filmmakers behind the camera. So I took to Twitter to vent my frustration.

Did it take some time before the hashtag took off?

No, it trended pretty immediately since that was the day that the Academy Awards were announced.

With shows like "Scandal," "How to Get Away With Murder," "Blackish" and "Fresh Off the Boat," why does TV seem to be much more diverse than what's going on in film?

Well, it's a completely different medium, and so there are different considerations with respect to distribution and cost and how the actual shows or films are made.

We also know that there is distinction between the amount of marginalized communities that are working behind the scenes, right? So, for example, ABC just announced that they have their very first African American woman who is going to be the head of ABC, and so that will also create a shift or change and exhibits the difference between film and TV.

What do you think needs to happen for the industry to change?

Well, there's an article published in the Guardian in which I've laid out a 10-point plan. Part of that will include ensuring that the Hollywood executives and the studios are using a much more of a broader perspective in determining who is cast in particular films and who is going to be telling those stories behind the camera, meaning the screenwriters, directors, producers, cinematographers and so on.

Was there any negative pushback to #OscarsSoWhite?

Well, I think that the majority of the negative response that I've gotten is from people who have very little information about what the hashtag is about or the actual statistics of the Academy. But, overwhelmingly, the response has been positive, and so we keep fighting and moving forward, concentrating on the positive energy.

What did you do during Oscar night?

We engaged in counter-programming, so instead of watching the awards show, we live-tweeted the coming-of-age movie "The Wood" via Netflix. And then after that, people also were live-tweeting the movie "Marley" about the musician and activist Bob Marley.

If you've seen the video clips, what did you think of Chris Rock's performance?

Well, I didn't see Chris Rock's performance, so I would only be commenting on what other people saw and their frame of reference. It was my impression, based on some of the comments that I saw, that perhaps Chris Rock could have been more inclusive. But he does not speak for #OscarsSoWhite, and that needs to be made exceedingly clear. He was doing his job as host, and I'm sure it was a difficult one for him.

Do you think you will see change by next year's Oscars? What kind of change?

I think the change is going to be incremental. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has indicated that the Academy expects to diversify its membership by 2020 and double the number of people of color and women within its ranks. But again, the Academy can only nominate films that are actually made, so the onus must be on Hollywood, not necessarily the Academy as much, to create better films that the Academy can actually nominate.

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