Over the last few months, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have used their considerable star power to illuminate Hollywood’s diversity problem. Their actions during awards season sparked other prominent Black artists to criticize the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and forced significant rule changes within its voting body.
Those flares of change are being seen with this week’s announcement of Reginald Hudlin becoming a governor on the Academy’s board. Now, the Smiths are reaching down toward the lower levels of the film industry to support diversity.
Variety reports that the couple has donated $30,000 to NYU’s undergraduate film program, with its primary aim to help fund the projects of future female filmmakers. During the student-run, woman-centered Fusion Film Festival, five $2,000 awards were given to Alik Barsoumian, Madelyn Miller, Jennifer Rudin, Jennifer Helen Coates and Suzanne Egan. The remaining $20,000 will help finance two student-conceived television projects with the selected shows each receiving $10,000.
Joe Pichirallo, NYU’s chair of Tisch’s undergraduate film and TV department, said “Will and Jada Smith have a strong desire and commitment to the education of tomorrow’s storytellers, and we’re thrilled that they have decided to support some of our standout students and programs.”
The influential couple’s direct investment in the talents of diverse voices on a ground level follows their pattern of creating change. After the Academy Awards nominations were announced, Jada Pinkett Smith was the first major star to rain down criticism on Hollywood after their exclusion of Black nominees for the second year in a row.
“Is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence, that we have amassed, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere?” she said. “Maybe it’s time that we recognize that if we love and respect and acknowledge ourselves in the way in which we are asking others to do, that that is the place of true power. Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power — and we are a dignified people, and we are powerful.”
Will Smith, joined her in sitting out the Oscars, saying, “Diversity is the American superpower. That’s why we’re great. When I look at the series of nominations of the Academy, it’s not reflecting that beauty.”
The Smiths’ steadfast criticism of Hollywood’s lack of diversity has helped usher major change at the top of the mountain, but this endowment for those struggling in the valley helps foster continuous and sustained change. This is the only way to solve the diversity conundrum.
In his interview with Robin Roberts about boycotting the Oscars, Will Smith stated his simple but powerful belief, “If we’re not a part of the solution, we’re a part of the problem.”