"I was very pleased at how quickly and aggressively the Academy responded," the Concussion actor told the BBC

By Alexis L. Loinaz
Updated January 29, 2016 09:20 AM
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Credit: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/Getty

Will Smith is giving the Academy props for taking action.

The actor spoke out Friday about sweeping changes that Hollywood’s top award-giving body has instituted to diversify its membership in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, saying that he was “pleased” with its decisive action.

“I was very pleased at how quickly and aggressively the Academy responded,” the Concussion actor told the BBC.

“But I want to be very clear about the spirit of what I’m saying,” he added. “This is far beyond me – this has nothing to do with me, this has nothing to do with awards. That’s a very frivolous reason for me to put my hand up and make a statement. For me this is much more about the idea of diversity and inclusion.”

Smith, 47, said last week that both he and wife Jada Pinkett Smith, 44, planned to skip the Oscars after the Academy failed to nominate people of color in any of this year’s acting races.

“It’s not ‘us’ and ‘them,’ it’s ‘we’ – I’m a member of the Academy,” he explained to the BBC. “So it’s much more a domestic family issue than it is a civil rights issue. So it’s a problem that we all have to solve.”

Smith also appeared on Good Morning Britain and The Graham Norton Show, where he elaborated on his thoughts about diversity, and its importance to both Hollywood and America’s broader cultural landscape.

“I believe diversity is America’s superpower. I think that’s what makes our country great and special, that everyone’s ideas and thoughts and beliefs [are] accepted and become a part of the American tapestry,” he told Good Morning Britain.

“The images that come out of Hollywood are supposed to be painting the pictures of a rainbow future, they’re supposed to be painting the pictures of a diverse and inclusive future,” he added. “So if the images coming out of Hollywood narrows, it’s almost criminal. It’s like we’re narrowing the collective American imagination. And that, to me, that is the issue. It has to be as broad and as beautiful as the cultural globe is.”

Later, on The Graham Norton Show, he reiterated his stance on inclusiveness, saying: “I feel very strongly that there is a regression in America toward separatism and racial and religious exclusion. So for me, it’s about putting my hand up and reminding my community, the Hollywood community, that we have to lead.”

His wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, has herself been vocal about the Oscars’ lack of diversity, taking to both Twitter and Facebook shortly after the nominations were unveiled to express her concern.

On Thursday, Pinkett Smith’s friend and onetime costar Queen Latifah expressed her support for Pinkett Smith’s outspokenness, while decrying the lack of representation among minorities in Hollywood.

“I definitely do support Jada, that’s my sister and I support her 100 percent,” Latifah told PEOPLE Thursday in Los Angeles at the Mattel hosted “Reshape the Conversation” dinner to celebrate the new line of Barbies. “But also, I respect everyone’s right to have their own opinion about how they feel about it. It’s very clear that there’s not enough diversity in the Academy voting board, on the board itself. I’m a member and a voter, but I’m not the majority. Obviously we want to see more diversity in the voters because it’s just, for me it’s common sense.”

Latifah also stressed the importance of diversity both in front of and behind the camera.

“Even if I create a film that is primarily starring African-Americans, I make sure that the crew is very diverse,” she said. “When I star in a movie, I make sure that my producers or whoever is hiring the crew purposefully goes out and finds qualified people of diverse backgrounds, because when I look up before action and after cut I want to see people who reflect the world around me.”

And that initiative, she says, starts with each member of the entertainment community.

“I want to know that there’s opportunities given to everyone who is qualified, not just one type of person or one complexion or one style,” she explained. “I know what it really is growing up as African-American in this country. I just know how if you don’t do it yourself and become active yourself in changing it, it won’t happen.”

With reporting by MARIAH HAAS