April Reign is the first person to tell you that she isn’t the most important voice pushing conversations on diversity in the Oscars selection process and racism in Hollywood. In fact, she’s very quick to acknowledge that her hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, was just one of many important conversation starters questioning why the slate of Academy Awards nominees this year looks like the cast of “Friends.”
#OcsarsSoWhite, which Reign started in 2015 after the Academy failed to nominate a single non-white performer, restarted again in January when the awards body produced another whitewashed list of who it thought was the season’s top performers.
The Shadow League sat down with Reign for a wide-ranging discussion, including her life before #OscarsSoWhite, which may surprise you.
The Shadow League: The Academy announced a sweeping number of changes to make the Oscars nomination process more ethnically diverse and inclusive of non-white performers and artists. You don’t like to take credit for this, but your activism was very critical in these changes. What are your thoughts on the Academy’s announcement?
April Reign: I’m honestly still trying to process the fact that a hashtag that I created in my family room has led to the first substantial changes that we’ve seen in one of the biggest organizations in film in 80 years. I’m very humbled by all of the support that I’ve received and I think it speaks a lot to the power of social media. No one can ever say, “It’s just Twitter.” I never went to Los Angeles. I never had any conversations with any celebrities or the Academy’s president. This was an example of how powerful hashtag activism can be when people rally behind an important issue.
TSL: Did any celebrities reach out to you about the hashtag?
AR: No. Arsenio Hall, before the Academy made the announcement, said something like, “Keep the pressure on,” but I haven’t heard from anyone since the announcement was made. The only thing I have heard about (my hashtag) was a few people on Twitter using the hashtag to voice their concerns as well, but there was no direct interaction.
I think that this issue resonated with everyone because moviegoers are of all communities. They are LGBTQ people. They are people who are differently abled. They are indigenous communities. They are people of color. Different genders. Different sexual orientations.
But everyone goes to the movies and everyone wants to see themselves represented on that screen and I think everyone can relate to spending your hard-earned money and wanting to see inclusive stories. Stories that make us think. Stories that make us laugh. Stories that make us cry. That’s universal. So the fact that all of this happened because regular people said, “We want better from Hollywood and from the Academy” means everything.
TSL: When you saw the nominations this year, did you think, “Damn. Not again”?
AR: Yes. I was disappointed and frustrated but not surprised because I knew the structure of the Academy and that, although Cheryl Boone Isaacs invited 300 new members into the Academy to increase diversity, the change was not going to be immediate. But to have no impact whatsoever meant more needed to be done and I think the Academy now recognizes that in the most recent announcement that they’ve made.
Reign doesn’t have an acting background, nor did she grow up wanting to be a Hollywood or Broadway player. Before taking on her job as managing editor at Broadway Black, a site dedicated to news on artists on Broadway, she was a campaign finance lawyer in Washington, D.C. for 20-plus years.
AR: After practicing for 20 years, I realized I wasn’t following my passion and that I wasn’t happy and I was bored in what I was doing. I wasn’t being creative. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I just realized that was not it and that I had never really been happy practicing law. As in happy to go to work. Happy to do what I was doing. There were moments, but nothing sustainable. It was Twitter, really. I had been following Broadway Black. So, three years ago, I had met Andrew Shade, the founder and editorial director and he was tweeting out that he was swamped. So I said, “Well, hey. I write. That’s what I do all day long. So, would you mind if I start writing and he said, “Sure.”
After Reign started writing for Broadway Black, she realized how much responsibility Shade was taking on with the site, so she suggested that she take on a stronger role. Shade and few other colleagues had a conversation and Reign ended up leaving her job as a lawyer to accept the managing editor role she holds today.
“She has been a lifesaver for me,” said Shade. “Someone I can bounce ideas off of. She challenges me. She’s not a ‘yes’ person. She’s very headstrong. She’s just an all-around amazing individual. I’m very lucky and appreciative to be working with her”
As for Reign not being a lifelong thespian, Shade, who has been a performer and worked in theater all of his life, says that has actually been an advantage for his site.
“It’s a perfect match,” he said. “(Reign) is our target audience. We want to get more people in the seats who have not been to the theater. So she is our target audience. She’s the person we are looking for for her input.”
Over the past few days, there have been several articles suggesting that Reign’s hashtag only addresses the dearth of African-American representation in film. But she is adamant that #OscarsSoWhite was created to support all minorities who are ignored by the Oscars, and anyone who claims otherwise is simply pushing their own agenda.
(Nominees for the Academy Awards Best Actress and Best Actor Categories, Photo Credit: aljazeera.com)
AR: These so-called journalists have not researched properly. I have said for over a year that #OscarsSoWhite is about all marginalized communities: sexual orientation, gender, differently abled and indigenous communities. I’ve also been available for interviews for over a year. It’s not hard to find me, so had these journalists sent me a tweet or an email or a phone call, this perception would have quickly been put to rest.
Though April played a significant role in forcing the Oscars to address diversity, she doesn’t plan on watching the ceremony. Instead, she will be live tweeting about the black classic film “The Wood.”
The live tweet of the coming of age tale The Wood on Netflix will begin at 8pm EST on Sunday. Use the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag & join us!— April (@ReignOfApril) February 27, 2016
Reign is not alone. Fusion is also hosting its first ever All Def Movie Awards that will be live-streamed at 7 p.m. ET. Stand-up comedian, actor and screenwriter Hannibal Buress is also hosting a free event in Flint, Michigan that will start at 5:30 ET.
AR: There are so many other choices available for people who are frustrated with the lack of representation in film of marginalized communities. Do not reward the Academy with your viewership and your ratings.