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Cynthia Erivo talks diversity after Stephen King’s controversial Oscars take

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Cynthia Erivo talks diversity after Stephen King’s controversial Oscars take

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Cynthia Erivo is speaking out about diversity.

At the Television Critics Association meeting in Los Angeles Wednesday, the “Harriet” star was asked about Stephen King‘s controversial comments about considering “quality” not “diversity” for  the 2020 Academy Awards nominations. (Erivo was promoting HBO’s “The Outsider,” a new series she stars in adapted from King’s novel.) 

“I feel like this year we had a flurry of beautiful pieces by people who are of a diverse nature – black women, women in general,” said Erivo, the lone Oscar nominee of color across 20 acting categories.

Erivo’s comments come on the heels of King’s tweets about the Oscars’ lack of diversity after the nomination of men as all five directing nominees and white actors in nearly all the acting categories. 

“I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality,” King tweeted Tuesday. “It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”

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…I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.

— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 14, 2020

According to King, diversity “did not come up” for him when he considered whom to nominate.

“As a writer, I am allowed to nominate in just 3 categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay,” he wrote. “For me, the diversity issue–as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway–did not come up.”

A few hours later, King appeared to walk back his comments.

“The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation,” he wrote. “Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts.”

He added: “You can’t win awards if you’re shut out of the game.”

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The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts.

— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 14, 2020

Erivo said it’s up to people in positions of power to “open their eyes and open doors” to usher in more opportunities for better representation in the movie industry. 

“But it is also up to those people who are used to doing things a certain way to shake up their ideas,” Erivo said at TCA. “Change the way they think, change the way they cast things, change the way they (hire) their producers, their directors and writers and make sure it reflects the world that we live in.”

Erivo was not the only star to address King’s initial comments. 

Ava DuVernay, the writer and director of Netflix’s “When They See Us,” slammed King’s words as “backward and ignorant.”

“When you wake up, meditate, stretch, reach for your phone to check on the world and see a tweet from someone you admire that is so backward and ignorant you want to go back to bed,” she wrote in a tweet Wednesday.

Though DuVernay’s response also stirred controversy, the writer seemed unfazed later in the day.

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Me when the privilege protectors get exhausted with mansplaining and whitesplaining @StephenKing’s tweets to me and decide to move away from my timeline and get a life. pic.twitter.com/tmfK0nBLGU

— Ava DuVernay (@ava) January 14, 2020

“Me when the privilege protectors get exhausted with mansplaining and whitesplaining @StephenKing’s tweets to me and decide to move away from my timeline and get a life,” she wrote, along with a video of people cheering.

Author Roxane Gay and others also took issue with King.

“As a fan, this is painful to read from you,” Gay wrote in a reply to the author. “It implies that diversity and quality cannot be synonymous. They are not separate things. Quality is everywhere but most industries only believe in quality from one demographic. And now, here you are.”

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“Sir, respectfully saying you as a white man can’t really say that,” wrote @davidmweissman. “You had more advantages and opportunities than a person of color would have. They have been wrongfully held back in so many ways just because of their color skin.

“White men stay blind to problems they clearly create,” wrote @SonicFeminista.

Others, however, sided with King.

“This will be an unpopular opinion but I agree with you,” wrote @shawndageisel. “You can’t be diverse just to be diverse. If the content being produced by a more diverse group of people isn’t good, then you can’t nominate it. It doesn’t matter what the medium is.”

This will be an unpopular opinion but I agree with you. You can’t be diverse just to be diverse. If the content being produced by a more diverse group of people isn’t good, then you can’t nominate it. It doesn’t matter what the medium is.

— Shawnda (@shawndageisel) January 14, 2020

“Stephen King is right,” wrote @InsanityIsFree. “Art doesn’t need to fit a demographic to be good. If you’re trying to meet some quota, rather than speak from your heart, you’re not making art, you’re making a bureaucracy. Express yourself. If it speaks to people, they will listen. If not, you tried.”

“Stephen King is on twitter basically saying the goal we should judge everyone on their merits and not superfluous (expletive) and to focus on your story and characters but avoid making token characters,” wrote @Actually_Tina. “And boy are people salty.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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