Stephen King clarifies his controversial Oscars diversity remarks

"I would never consider diversity in matters of art," he horror author previously declared

Stephen King Oscars Oscar Academy Awards diversity essay
Stephen King

This year’s Oscars nominations caused a stir for several reasons, but the biggest was the lack of representation. Overall, this year’s Academy Awards seem dominated by white male nominees — not to mention for movies about white men. Everyone from Issa Rae to Saturday Night Live called out the imbalance. Meanwhile, Stephen King got busy tweeting some award-season remarks about diversity… and now he’s ready clarify what he meant.

The whole ordeal started on January 14th when King explained how he’s allowed to nominate in three Academy Awards categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. “For me, the diversity issue — as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway — did not come up,” he said in a series of tweets. “That said, I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”

He then added that representation has to start from the beginning by giving everyone “the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation.” Long story short, King’s stance on diversity in the arts could be summed up by his Twitter thread’s concluding statement: “You can’t win awards if you’re shut out of the game.” Mere hours later, plenty of people asked him to reflect on his stance, including Ava Duvernay.

Now, roughly two weeks later, Stephen King has penned an op-ed for The Washington Post elaborating on his comments. In the essay, titled “The Oscars are still rigged in favor of white people”, he argues that the Academy Awards would benefit from uplifting more diverse voices while still prioritizing quality of work. “Creative excellence comes from every walk, color, creed, gender and sexual orientation,” he wrote, “and it’s made richer and bolder and more exciting by diversity, but it’s defined by being excellent.”

In the op-ed, King doubled down on the initial belief that creative works should be judged blind. But that can only happen in a world where prejudices don’t already exist, he wrote, which makes it currently impossible right now. “Judging anyone’s work by any other standard is insulting and — worse — it undermines those hard-won moments when excellence from a diverse source is rewarded (against, it seems, all the odds) by leaving such recognition vulnerable to being dismissed as politically correct,” wrote King.

So, in a way, this is the author’s way of acknowledging that he mixed up his words in that Twitter thread, yes, but he had the same point of view all along. Below, find a few noteworthy excerpts from the essay.

“I stepped over one of those lines recently, by saying something on Twitter that I mistakenly thought was noncontroversial: ‘I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.’ The subject was the Academy Awards. I also said, in essence, that those judging creative excellence should be blind to questions of race, gender or sexual orientation.”

“I did not say that was the case today, because nothing could be further from the truth. Nor did I say that films, novels, plays and music focusing on diversity and/or inequality cannot be works of creative genius. They can be, and often are. Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Netflix miniseries, When They See Us, about the wrongful convictions of the Central Park Five, is a splendid case in point.”

“We don’t live in that perfect world, and this year’s less-than-diverse Academy Awards nominations once more prove it. Maybe someday we will. I can dream, can’t I? After all, I make stuff up for a living.”

Find Stephen King’s initial tweets below, as well as his new op-ed on the matter.