Short answer: Incredibly unethical.
Spike Lee, ground-breaking black director, social commentator, Knicks fan and hot-head, announced that he’s boycotting the Oscars because its 2016 nominations list did not meet diversity mandates, and posted this rant/manifesto on Instagram:
“Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. Dr. King Said “There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The “Real” Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With “The Green Light” Vote….”
Now let me list as many of the ways Lee’s boycott is unethical (I may stray into why it is stupid as well), as I can before my fingers get tired and nausea overwhelms me:
1. The boycott is racist. He is boycotting fellow artists, their work, their honor for their work, and the ceremony giving them that honor, because of their race alone. If an unknown number of the actors being honored were black, Lee would not be boycotting. It is by definition a racist boycott.
2. The boycott, and any larger boycott that follows, will automatically devalue any future Oscar nominations or awards to any black artists in the future, as these will appear to be motivated by duress, fear, and other factors beyond performance, talent and ability.
3. He is behaving disrespectfully and unfairly to his colleagues who were nominated, for something they have absolutely no control over. This is incompetent and unprofessional.
4. If, as his rant admits, the Oscars themselves are not at fault for the absence of nomintaions to black artists, then boycotting the Oscars is inherently unfair and irresponsible.
5. The boycott is incoherent, and like almost all boycotts, does damage without purpose. What is Lee saying? That there should be a quota? That the vote was rigged? That there needs to be affirmative action in voting for the Oscars?
6. It’s gutless. Go ahead, Spike: name which of the nominees don’t deserve to be on the list, and should be replaced with unquestionably superior black performers. Then explain why your arguments are boycott-worthy, as exactly as valid cases are made for un-nominated white actors.
7. “We Can’t Act?” is an intentionally dishonest statement. Nobody in show business—hell, nobody in community theater—equates awards or nominations with ability, merit, or anything but good work combined with the luck of the draw. Lee knows this—he’s a jerk, but he’s a smart jerk. Kevin Bacon has never been nominated. Ewan McGregor has never been nominated. John Goodman has never been nominated. Bruce Willis. Richard Gere. This shocked me: Donald Sutherland, one of the most prolific, versatile, consistently excellent actors alive, has never been nominated for an Oscar. Nobody, especially them, has ever taken this as a statement that those actors, and literally hundreds of others, thousand if we include past generations, “can’t act.”
8. Lee is grand-standing offensively, and degrading civil rights heroes in doing so. “It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday….” Right, Spike…your refusing to go to a party with a bunch of millionaires evokes for all of us the sacrifice of protesters who braved police dogs, fire hoses and billy-clubs.
9. The boycott has a conflict of interest attached, because Lee was a potential nominee, though not a deserving one. Is this a principled protest, or a tantrum? In all likelihood, both. Well, except that it isn’t very principled.
That does it; I’m sick of writing about Spike already. Feel free to write in with more.