One of the most respected British stage and film actors, Ian McKellen, famous for playing Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of The Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies, said that it’s not just racism but also hinted at homophobia plaguing the Academy voters.
In an interview with The Guardian, the veteran actor who starred as a powerful mutant Magneto in Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” movies, sympathised with black actors being “ill-treated and underestimated” but said the diversity issue is bigger than that.
McKellen also told Sky News, “It’s not only black people who’ve been disregarded by the film industry, it used to be women, it’s certainly gay people to this day. And these are all legitimate complaints and the Oscars are the focus of those complaints of course.”
“No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar; I wonder if that is prejudice or chance,” McKellen said, implying that he thinks it is the former.
Sir Ian McKellen came out to the public as a gay man in 1988 in a program on BBC Radio. He was addressing the controversial Section 28 in the British Parliament which proposed prohibiting local authorities from promoting homosexuality.
The 88th Academy Awards have become the most controversial Oscars to date with its lack of diversity in its nominee list. The fire was fuelled with an online campaign ‘#OscarsSoWhite,’ and many blamed Oscar voters as being biased and racist.
A few actors have even boycotted the Oscars this year such as Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Director Spike Lee also said he won’t be attending the Oscars this year even as The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has approved some major changes in terms of voting and recruitment in an emergency meeting.
The Guardian article brought to notice that Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sean Penn have all won best actor Oscars for playing gay men. “How clever, how clever,” McKellen responded. “What about giving me one for playing a straight man? My speech has been in two jackets … ‘I’m proud to be the first openly gay man to win the Oscar.’ I’ve had to put it back in my pocket twice.”
McKellen said, the voting system of the Oscars, in its present form, was not fit for judging talent across all diversities – “If you are trying to have a career, as a black or Hispanic actor in a state – California – where white people are now the minority, and you are being judged by an Academy where the vast majority are white, male, middle-aged and old … well, perhaps that is the wrong yardstick.”