‘The Woman King’ Director Gina Prince-Bythewood Addresses Lack of Black Oscar Nominees: ‘We Need Concrete Change’

Gina Prince-Bythewood addressed the lack of Black representation among this year’s Oscar nominees during the red carpet for the NAACP Image Awards on Saturday evening.

The Woman King” director penned an essay in The Hollywood Reporter after her historical drama found itself completely shut out of the Academy Awards, despite landing several precursor noms across other awards bodies and craft institutions. Prince-Bythewood called the season “an eye-opener” and that “the Academy made a very loud statement, and for me to stay quiet is to accept that statement.”

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“We know the issues exist, but they felt amplified this year,” Prince-Bythewood told Variety senior entertainment writer Angelique Jackson on the red carpet, discussing her essay. “The responses have been really amazing. The number of people that have reached out and sharing it — whole companies are sharing it — and then going to the BAFTAs and having people reference it as well, there’s no denying some of the things I put in and people were able to see firsthand what happened.”

“My hope is change,” Prince-Bythewood continued. “It can’t just be talking about it and then forgetting it, because that’s what happens cyclically. We need concrete change.”

“The Woman King,” directed by Prince-Bythewood and starring Viola Davis, is based on the true events during the 18th and 19th centuries at the African Kingdom of Dahomey. The film was met with critical acclaim and earned nods from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the Screen Actors Guild, the Critics’ Choice Association and the Golden Globes – yet it did not receive a single Academy Award nomination, including a blank in the lead actress category for Viola Davis, who achieved EGOT status earlier this month with her Grammy win. Additionally, no Black woman has ever been nominated for best director and some pundits expected Prince-Bythewood would be able to become the first.

Also noted in Prince-Bythewood’s essay is Chinonye Chukwu’s historical drama “Till,” led by Danielle Deadwyler, which tells the story of Emmett Till’s mother’s fight for justice. The film similarly received recognition from the BAFTAs, SAG and Critics’ Choice, but was shut out of the Oscars. Deadwyler, another contender for the lead actress category, did not receive a nomination.

Meanwhile, France’s international film selection “Saint Omer,” directed by Alice Diop, did not make the cut among final nominees. Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” received five Oscar nods, but was ultimately left out of the director and best picture categories.

Talk of these films’ snubs prompted a larger conversation about the lack of Black and female representation at the Oscars and more broadly in the industry.

Chukwu, Prince-Bythewood and Coogler were nominated in the directing category at the Image Awards, which honors Black achievements in entertainment, alongside Antoine Fuqua (“Emancipation”) and Kasi Lemmons (“I Wanna Dance With Somebody”). Davis and Deadwyler also received nods from the Image Awards for actress in a motion picture, with Keke Palmer (“Alice”), Letitia Wright (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) and Regina Hall (“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul”) rounding out the category.

The NAACP Image Awards took place Feb. 25 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, broadcasting on BET and simulcasting across Paramount Global networks. The Oscars are set for March 12.

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