“I think what the Academy did [yesterday] is, as Ava DuVernay said, a good first step in a very long road,” Orange is the New Black star Alysia Reiner told us at the 2016 Spotlight Initiative Gala Awards Dinner Saturday night at the Kia Supper Suite by The Church Key, one day after the Academy pledged to double the number of its diverse members by 2020. “It’s going to be a long road and we all have to plow it together. And everybody, everybody can vote with their dollar—spend your money on movies that are female-driven. Spend your money on movies that are diverse.”
The gala was certainly evidence of those steps in the right direction, with the coalition not only honoring Spike Lee, but also The Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker with the Emerging Director Award. Before Parker accepted his award for his film at the soiree, he told us that in order to see change in Hollywood there needs to be more discussion about why there is an issue in the first place.
“There are things in our past, in my opinion, that have planted seeds and grown trees of injustices that we have to deal with,” Parker said. “We can deal with the symptom, or we can deal with the root, the real sickness. I think that there are some questions we need to ask ourselves about honest confrontation in this country. There are people that have been injured by the legacy of slavery, and it has not been addressed. And until we address those things with honest confrontation and say, hey, this is where we come from. This is where we started. It’s no wonder this is where we are.”
Parker added that he hopes his film, The Birth of a New Nation, will help spark the conversation. The film premieres at Sundance on Monday and tells the story of Nat Turner, who led the biggest slave rebellion in American history.
Meanwhile, Jussie Smollett told us he would rather focus on other important issues than the Oscar snubs, like the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where he will visit after he leaves Sundance. “Our people are dying, and I want to concentrate on that,” he told us at WGN America and John Legend’s “Underground” party Saturday night at the Vida Tequila Lounge. “So if people want to take up that cause, I love you. I think you’re wonderful, and I celebrate you and I respect you. My cause is to save our people. I think that it’s much deeper than a golden statue.”
The “Underground” bash celebrated the premiere of the upcoming WGN series about the Underground Railroad, which stars his sister Jurnee Smollett Bell, Jessica De Gouw and Aldis Hodge, and is executive produced by John Legend. The Empire star will also make an appearance on the show.