More than four years after her #OscarsSoWhite Twitter hashtag helped catalyze change in Hollywood, lawyer and advocate April Reign will finally be in the room where the film industry celebrates itself, confirming Tuesday that she will attend the Academy Awards ceremony for the first time.
Reign launched the hashtag in January 2015 to protest that year’s slate of Oscar acting nominees, none of whom were people of color. The following year, once again, all 20 of the nominees were white.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose members vote on who gets the Oscars, has since taken steps to diversify its ranks, bringing in more women, people of color, international filmmakers and younger folks, among other underrepresented groups.
Reign’s efforts have turned her into a sought-after speaker and advocate for diversity and inclusion across a variety of professions. Her Twitter hashtag #ReignyDayJobs spotlights job opportunities to help connect employers with people in marginalized communities.
Last year, she launched an online directory to help underrepresented people in creative professions find resources, allowing participants to identify themselves in the directory by race, sexual orientation and disability.
While change has been gradual, diversity and inclusion have become a bigger priority in the entertainment industry and across society, thanks to Reign’s movement.
“It’s not about saying who is snubbed and who should have been nominated, it’s about opening the discussion more on how the decisions were made, who was cast and who tells the story behind the camera,” Reign told HuffPost in 2016. “My goal was just to have the conversation and push the dialogue further.”
Noting how the inclusion problem goes beyond the Oscars and stems from institutional and systemic disparities, she added: “The onus has to be with the studio executives as they’re sitting around the board room and deciding which films are greenlit and who is cast to tell the story both in front of and behind the camera.”
Many Hollywood stars have advocated for ways to elevate marginalized voices, such as last year’s Best Actress winner, Frances McDormand, using her acceptance speech to popularize the use of “inclusion riders,” where a star demands diverse hiring as part of contract negotiations for a project.
This year, director Spike Lee, who — despite his storied career — received just his first Best Director Oscar nomination for “BlacKkKlansman,” credited Reign’s movement for getting his film recognition from the academy.
Reign told The Hollywood Reporter she was giving herself “permission to think that the work that I and many who believe in issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion have done is having an impact.” She said that seeing Lee nominated “is a very public validation of that work.”
She added that “the daily work of [#OscarsSoWhite] is for all marginalized people, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, age, or disability, to have opportunities they didn’t before.”
Reign said she plans to bring her 19-year-old son to Sunday’s ceremony “because the whole point of #OscarsSoWhite is that children of any age should be able to see themselves reflected on screen.”
“After creating the hashtag and working for almost five years to turn it into a movement that not only changed the Academy but made its way into so many other industries, I feel immense pride and a sense of coming full circle, back to where it all began,” she said. “The work continues, but I am thrilled to be able to celebrate the incremental progress that has been made, even if only for a night.”