UPDATE 12:35 P.M.: Adds Norman Lear’s comments regarding Donald Trump, at end.
EARLIER: Asked this afternoon for his take on the lack of Oscar nominations for African Americans, Quincy Jones — who’s scored 34 films beginning with The Pawnbroker in 1964 — told the audience at NATPE in Miami that he, too, might withdraw from the February 28 ceremony.
“Spike [Lee] pulled out, Jada [Pinkett Smith] pulled out,” Jones said in response to a question from an audience member, during a conversation with Norman Lear moderated by Netflix chief Ted Sarandos. “I’ve been involved in the Academy longer than I care to remember,” Jones continued. “I was the first black board member, the first black conductor — I hate ‘first black’ because that means ‘only.’ I want the young African-American kids to know that the door is open.” Jones then said that he has been asked to co-present with Common and Pharrell Williams and had told the Academy that, “If you don’t let me speak on the lack of diversity, I’m not going to do it.”
Jones recounted past battles with the Academy over a lifetime as composer and producer of stars from Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra. “We’ve changed all the rules,” over the years, he insisted. “I said that if the Beatles are not eligible for an Oscar then close this goddam thing down now. I had to make a speech for Lennon and McCartney for ‘Let It Be’!”
“Fix it,” Jones added, quite emotionally. “Boycott or fix it. It’s been going on too long.”
To which Lear added, “If there’s anything American, it’s the right to protest. I congratulate those who want to speak their minds.”
The exchange was the most electric of the 45 minute conversation in which Lear and Jones recalled high and low points of their seven decades-long careers. It began with a friendly jibe: Jones described being a young producer in London in the late 1960s and trying desperately to secure the rights to the popular UK sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. At the mention of that name, Lear amiably flipped the bird at Jones — acknowledgement that while Jones beat him at recognizing the potential of the show, it was Lear who would recast it in his distinctly American way as All In the Family. That show of course led to a franchise that dominated U.S. TV for two decades.
After the softball was over, Sarandos turned it over to questions from the audience. One participant said she’d been hearing people say that Republican Presidential contender Donald Trump “is the new Archie Bunker,” referring to the bigoted central figure of All In The Family, played by the late Carroll O’Connor. Lear didn’t miss a beat in answering:
“Archie Bunker was afraid of progress,” Lear said. “Donald Trump thinks he is progress. And the American people see him as the middle finger of their right hands.”