In his op-ed (as reported by IndieWire), he wrote about how he has felt exhausted by the discussion surrounding Smith’s actions, as it reminds him how often Black people, men in particular, are often reduced to criminal stereotypes the moment they do something unexpected.
“As a Black man in the public eye, you are constantly aware of the fact that your every existence is political,” he wrote. “You are consistently in a state of either being used as an example to perpetuate or debunk a stereotype. Those stereotypes are tied to criminality, civility, education, sexual prowess, poverty, social responsibility, and so much more. It’s a burden I have accepted despite it being exhausting in nature.”
"The moment I slowly realized the nature of what had just occurred on the stage at the Dolby Theater, I was confronted by the same rising anxiety all Black people feel when the face that flashes up on the news after a crime is reported, is a Black one. You find yourself thinking, 'What does this mean for us?' 'What does that mean for me?'"
He added that at an after-party, an older white man came up to him with “relish in his demeanor” while saying that Smith “should have been dragged right out of there.”
“You may well agree with that sentiment, but it’s not what he said, it’s the way he said it,” Oyelowo wrote. “I know that relish. I know that demeanor, and it is ugly to its core in all of its coded messaging.”
Oyelowo also wrote how Smith's incident could set back the racial progress the Academy has made since being dragged by the internet with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.
“It would be naive to assume that the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock will not be pushed, by some industry professionals, through the lens of race,” he wrote. “Some of them will be the same folks who resisted the inclusion measures Cheryl Boone Isaacs and her supporters at the Academy managed to push through and which led to a more diverse Academy…In the wake of Goerge Floyd’s murder, the entertainment industry made a lot of pledges to increase the diversity of our business. Some intentional. Some ceremonial. My fear is that this unfortunate accident, which has us all processing, will have a negative effect on the ongoing push for inclusion.”
He added that he felt that some will work from conscious or unconscious bias while creating measures to make sure an incident like Smith's doesn't happen again, a bias he said "still governs so much of the decision-making in Hollywood."
“It would be tragic if a bid to prevent such an incident from happening again becomes an excuse for ideas about inclusion and diversity to backslide,” he wrote. “That would only confirm the disingenuous nature of some of these pledges in the first place. This incident should not be a springboard for proxy arguments in Hollywood circles about race, respectability and belonging.”
Oyelowo warned people to not forget what he had experienced with the elderly man who seemed to bask in the feeling of Smith receiving punishment, writing, “His gossipy lean and the half-smile on his face is indicative of what must not be allowed to creep into the aftermath of this incident.”
"We must be vigilant against decision making that would detrimentally affect the gains made by the likes of The Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs and all of those fighting for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable entertainment industry and world," he said.
Oyelowo’s op-ed comes at an opportune time since the Academy has agreed to move up their Board of Governors’ meeting from April 18 to this Friday in an effort to handle the matter “in a timely fashion,” according to a statement from Academy president David Rubin as reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
While the previous time was set “in accordance with California law and our Standards of Conduct” because the agenda previously included “possible suspension or expulsion of Mr. Smith from membership,” the new time reflects Rubin and the Academy’s new decision regarding possible punishment for Smith.
Rubin wrote in his letter to Academy members that “suspension or expulsion are no longer a possibility and the legally prescribed timeline no longer applies.”