Disruptor. Like guru or ninja or thought leader, it’s a term that’s lost what little meaning it started with. Everyone wants to be a leader and a game-changer, but a buzzword does not make it so. However, a few — a very few — have earned the title. And among them is April Reign, creator of 2015’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign.
In one perfect three-word phrase, the lawyer-turned-advocate took Hollywood to task for its woeful lack of diversity—sparking a conversation that has resonated well past the movie screen (see also #DemsSoWhite).
Yet, Oscar weekend is Reign’s Super Bowl, and finds her offering opinions and suggestions on everything from nominees and categories to making the Academy more diverse. (The Oscars, like so many other awards shows, are still #SoWhite.) So asking her for an interview on the Friday of that weekend, as LEVEL did, has the same odds of success as a realistic wig in a Tyler Perry movie. Her response? “What time?”
We expected 20 minutes. We got double that. She made speaking to the LEVEL man a priority. Now get into this conversation about diversity in Hollywood — and have a glass of water nearby. Seriously.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
LEVEL: The Oscars felt like they took a big step back this year as far as diversity goes. Did that frustrate you?
April Reign: I was disappointed, but not surprised. The Academy is still 84% white and 68% male. The voting membership is not required to view the films before they vote. So it’s just a popularity contest amongst mostly older White men.
Have you had an opportunity to speak with anyone at The Academy?
The Academy has never reached out to me.
Not once. If they had, I could have told them their plan to double the number of people of color and women to their membership wasn’t going to be sufficient.
Things are changing — slowly.
I was overjoyed for everyone attached to Hair Love, including Karen Toliver who is now the first Black woman to receive an award for animation. And then you have Matthew Cherry who is the second former professional athlete to win in this category — the first being Kobe Bryant.
Along with pushing for diversity in Hollywood, you spend a fair amount of time supporting great film projects. But what’s your cinematic guilty pleasure? That one you know isn’t very good but you will watch every single time?
Ugh… It’s a really horrible movie.
It can’t be that bad.
It’s What About Bob, with Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray. It’s an awful movie. But my family and I used to watch it every Thanksgiving — even after I left for college and came home, that was part of our ritual.
Okay. A question specifically from the guys at LEVEL. It’s one of those things we want to ask women but we don’t know how.
How you can spend half your time on planes and in hotels and have your skin look as amazing as it does? What are we supposed to be doing? Should we be getting some serums or something?
[Laughs] Y’all have to hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate! Drink more water than you think is necessary. Also, hydrating face masks. At home, on the plane, it doesn’t matter. I’m actually going on Twitter today to ask about people’s favorite brands so I can buy a case of them. There was a Twitter thread the other day of Black men wearing their facemasks and it was the sexiest thing ever.
Back on topic — what’s your take on all the Tyler Perry writers room debates?
Of course I believe in having diverse voices and points of view in the writers room. What I will also say is that Tyler Perry knows his audience incredibly well. The church ladies and the aunties are always going to run for Tyler Perry movie. There is a reason why all the Madea movies have paid for his amazing studio. He understands his audience, not unlike Scorsese.
People might call me out for comparing the two of them, but Scorsese also knows his lane and has not strayed from it. Look at The Irishman. It was a good movie but it could have been made 30 years ago. He’s cemented an incredible legacy because he stays in his lane.
Anything that you didn’t love?
There’s an interesting thing going on with the Academy where they are acknowledging issues of representation but not doing enough to fix the issue.
Janelle Monáe performs an opening act written by Franchesca Ramsey. That’s great! And there are all these Black and Brown people on stage. Also great. It’s the inclusion we want to see. But then you hardly see any of that for the rest of the show—except for a few presenters.
There were more people of color on that stage in the first three minutes than there were the next three hours. I feel like I bit my tongue for a lot of it for five years; of course there was incremental progress along the way, but the question now really has to be: What’s next?