Oscars So White speaker underscores racial disparity within film industry

It’s Oscars season, and most people are preparing by watching the nominated films, buying snacks and making plans with friends. April Reign, however, will not be doing so. As the creator of the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite,” she will be preparing to continue her campaign for greater diversity and inclusion in Hollywood. 

Reign spoke at Geneseo about her career as a social media activist at the invitation of the Geneseo Campus Activities Board on Feb. 21. Reign was a lawyer unitl 2015, although she was always very active on Twitter. Her first viral hashtag came in 2014—“#StopTheFight”—about a staged celebrity fight between George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin, and the rapper DMX. 

Reign stayed prominent in social media activism after that, including watching the developments in the Mike Brown killing before any local news picked up on it, which made her realize the advantages of social media over other news sources.

“I haven’t watched the local news in years … if you have to wait until the end of the day to watch your local news, then your news is outdated,” Reign said. “Social media is a very powerful tool that allows you to stay current in ways that TV stations can’t.”   

When Reign was watching the Oscar nominations in 2015, she wrote a sarcastic tweet about the lack of diversity. The tweet read, “‘#OscarsSoWhite’ they asked to touch my hair.” By noon that day, the hashtag was trending on Twitter. 

Reign also discussed the importance of diversity in film, and her love for the new Marvel movie Black Panther.

“What we’ve seen this last weekend with Black Panther is what we’ve always known to be true—representation matters, and the more diverse a film is, the more people will see it and the more success it will have across the board,” Reign said.  

Reign finished her speech by talking about the significance people have in using their power as consumers to show that diversity in film matters. 

“You all as people have amazing potential in being able to right the wrongs that exist in this country,” she said. “It is up to us seasoned people to get out of the way and for you to stand up and say whatever it is you want to say.”

Students who attended the presentation were largely receptive to Reign’s message. 

“I love activism and I love my Facebook, so I want to hear about social activism,” communication major sophomore Clara Gallagher said. “I do question how powerful social media is in this age, especially in politics. Also, I love the ‘#OscarsSoWhite’ hashtag and I’ve used it many times.”

GCAB contemporary forum coordinator senior Gretta Cavatassi  helped coordinate the event, and stated that she tries to be inclusive of all students when organizing with GCAB.

“What I do when I plan my events is I try to take stock of events that are going on outside of campus, politically and socially, but also the campus climate,” Cavatassi said. “I actually saw some interest in the hashtag ‘#OscarsSoWhite’ on-campus. I want to make sure anyone on-campus can feel included, like minorities who don’t often have their voices heard can also enjoy events and feel valued.” 

As Cavatassi predicted, students responded enthusiastically to this topic. Beyond feeling inspired, many students felt compelled to reexamine their perspectives.  

“For me, I think a lot of times people complain that social media isn’t really making a change, but I think April is an example of the power of social media and how social media activism really works,” adolescent education and mathematics double major senior Kevin Pierce said. 

Reign’s presentation was a timely reminder that representation is important, and that students have the power to make the changes they want to see a reality.