Famed writer Stephen King has stirred up controversy after admitting he “would never consider diversity in matters of art,” a remark made in reference to his status as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) voting on Oscar contenders. His remarks come a day after the 2020 Oscar nominations were announced, prompting complaints that women and people of color were largely overlooked. Many critics bemoaned the exclusion of women like Greta Gerwig from the Best Director category, while Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo spoke out about being the only person of color to be nominated across four acting categories.
King, whose prolific career has included big-screen adaptations of stories like The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery and Carrie, took to Twitter to address the “diversity issue.” The author explained that he is allowed to vote for three non-acting categories — Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay — and only judges entries based on “quality,” not “diversity.” (Across the two screenplay categories, two women, Little Women’s Greta Gerwig and 1917 co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns were nominated, as were South Koreans Bong Joon-ho and Jin Won Han (Parasite), Just Mercy’s Destin Daniel Cretton, whose mother is Japanese-American, and JoJo Rabbit’s Taika Waititi, whose father is Māori.)
As a writer, I am allowed to nominate in just 3 categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. For me, the diversity issue--as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway--did not come up. That said...— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 14, 2020
...I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 14, 2020
But King’s comments had critics accusing him of having white privilege, dismissing the systemic bias against minorities, and implying that diverse work lacks quality. Director Ava DuVernay, of Selma and When They See Us fame, was among those calling out the author’s “backward and ignorant statement,” while writer Roxane Gay tweeted, “quality is everywhere but most industries only believe in quality from one demographic.”
When you wake up, meditate, stretch, reach for your phone to check on the world and see a tweet from someone you admire that is so backward and ignorant you want to go back to bed. https://t.co/nPXOeAebkb— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 14, 2020
With the utmost respect, I think this is quite a bit unfair. When films created by people of color, irrespective of quality, constantly get overlooked by institutions that are predominately comprised of white men, there is an implicit bias at work here.— Morgan Jerkins (@MorganJerkins) January 14, 2020
it’s easy to consider only quality when you can see yourself in every damn work of art out there 🙏🏻— bel rodrigues (@belrodrigues) January 14, 2020
The interesting thing is that diversity generally leads to more interesting, relatable, and higher quality art...— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) January 14, 2020
Notice how quality is framed as innately the opposite of diversity (whiteness)? Diversity is not deficiency and it is not charity. Stephen King is a perfect example here of why these awards shows are so vvhite. https://t.co/NZEr9JGYtp— BlackWomenViews (@blackwomenviews) January 14, 2020
As a fan, this is painful to read from you. It implies that diversity and quality cannot be synonymous. They are not separate things. Quality is everywhere but most industries only believe in quality from one demographic. And now, here you are.— roxane gay (@rgay) January 14, 2020
Hours after his original tweet, King returned to Twitter to acknowledge the factors that keep women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community from getting a “fair shot.”
“You can’t win awards if you’re shut out of the game,” he conceded.
The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 14, 2020
You can't win awards if you're shut out of the game.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 14, 2020
But some, including DuVernay, took his follow-up tweets to be a calculated backpedaling.
Wait until people begin to tweet you with the cleanup tweet he posted two hours later to justify it all. pic.twitter.com/6fcXy5h8q5— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 14, 2020
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