Lee Daniels on #OscarsSoWhite controversy: "If you're doing a job for an Oscar, you're doing the wrong job"

Black Actors Speak Out Against Oscar's Diversity Problem
Black Actors Speak Out Against Oscar's Diversity Problem

Fox's juicy Empire picked up the best drama series trophy at Friday night's NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, and it didn't take long for the conversation backstage to turn to Hollywood's hot-button issue of diversity, both on the big and small screens.

Standing on stage in the press room, co-creator Lee Daniels found a quick answer when asked for his perspective on the lack of diversity in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and among the 2016 crop of nominees. "If you're doing a job for an Oscar, you're doing the wrong job. Do it for the art," he explained, while surrounded by his entire cast and producer crew, including Danny Strong and Brian Grazer. "I don't wait for people to give me anything."

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Daniels wasn't the only one questioned about diversity backstage or on the red carpet at the Image Awards. Here's a sampling of what THR heard Friday night.

Sanaa Lathan, an Image Award winner Friday for her performance in The Perfect Man: "The Oscar controversy is great because it's giving light to something we've known all along. I've been in this business for 20 years and that's the reality of being a person of color in Hollywood. For me, I'm excited that the rest of the world is going to know what's going on and there will be some change."

Actress Kimberly Elise: "I am not an awards-oriented person. I enjoy great art and great performances and I leave with my own sense of satisfaction after having seen a film and I like to personally tell people how I felt about their work. Art is so subjective; it's so very personal. I hope it becomes a non-discussion and we can grow to a place where we are cast just as human beings and remember that we are all just having life experiences and you don't have to be a certain color to click into something that a character is going through."

Empire executive producer and director Sanaa Hamri: "Overall movies and entertainment should be the reflection of the journeys and the stories of people from different walks of lives. It's everybody's responsibility, specifically the studios and the people making movies, to greenlight diverse projects. I'm very about different walks of life and seeing various people on screen. I don't attach a gender to myself. I believe in being excellent."

Scandal actor and Image Award winner for best supporting actor in a drama series Joe Morton: "What happens is that Hollywood looks at black writers and performers and directors and says, 'Lovely, lovely job but we're not going to be writing for you. We're not going to be casting for you. We're not going to be looking for you to direct because we don't tell those kinds of stories.' Very often what happens in many cases when a black entertainer wins an award they cut themselves out of a career because the industry doesn't want to pay a black individual more money to do a film. Denzel has been lucky and Viola has been lucky that way but the scales are still out of balance."

Power creator Courtney Kemp Agboh: "One of the things I've always wanted to do is a show about where I grew up [Westpost, Connecticut] which would be a show about no black people at all other than the character playing me. The revolution is not to make black TV or white TV but to make TV; television that looks like the world that exists. That's why Shonda Rhimes led a revolution because Grey's Anatomy looked like the real world. It wasn't a black show or a white show, it was a show. That's what we should be moving toward.

Actor/comedian Affion Crockett: "We don't need to get recognition from anybody that doesn't want to give it to us. We can celebrate ourselves, like tonight, and turn this into a positive."

Actress Danielle Nicolet: "I was offered a film today that I don't think I would've two months ago. This character was never intended to be black and the fact that they came to me with it is amazing and a sign things are changing."

See More: NAACP Image Awards: Red-Carpet Photos

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