ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
We turn now to a conversation that's been rattling Hollywood and the movie-going public - the industry's chronic lack of diversity. This marks the second year in a row that the list of Academy Awards acting nominees has included zero people of color. That news sparked outrage and criticism both in and outside the film industry. Russell Simmons came up with his own response. The straight-talking Def Jam Recordings co-founder and hip-hop mogul is producing an alternative awards ceremony. The All Def Movie Awards taped earlier this week but it's airing at the same time as the Oscars ceremony tonight on the Fusion cable channel. And it's hosted by Tony Rock, younger brother of Oscars host Chris Rock. I spoke with Russell Simmons about his awards show and his take on Hollywood's lack of diversity.
RUSSELL SIMMONS: How long have they been making movies? That's how long it's been - not the second year in a row. It's forever.
SIMMONS: But yet it seems new, right? People are surprised. This discussion that we're having now is one that we could have had 30 years ago. The real issue is who picks the talent? Who decides what movies get made? And I think that's part black Hollywood. I mean, they have to make friends. The reason I got a break in Hollywood when I moved here a few years ago is my good buddy, who I was on the beach with when he was a publicist, is now the chairman of HBO. So we're writing all these shows. The reason that I have movies at Fox pictures is because my intern is now the president of Fox pictures. These are friends that I've had for many years. So I ask everyone - white Hollywood and black Hollywood - to get outside of your comfort zone and make friends. That's where they're going to learn from each other, and that's where they're going to make better movies and make Hollywood a better place. And in turn, this kind of collaboration makes the world a better place since culture drives politics and social behavior.
WESTERVELT: You obviously want to have some fun with this while making a serious point. I mean, some of the award categories include Best Helpful White Person, Most Likely to Steal Your Girl and Best Black Survivor in a Movie.
SIMMONS: Yeah, I mean, you know, the Def brand is always edgy and fun and entertaining. You know, sometimes these award shows are not as entertaining as they could be. It's a celebration after all. It's not a funeral. And so we had a lot of fun. So I'm hopeful that when they see it on television, it will get the kind of response that it got in the room. I applaud what the Oscars are doing to promote diversity. I think it's great. It is a black woman that is now in charge, black producer, black host. But you don't expect a 94-year-old white guy to pick "Dope," which was an awesome movie not even close to being considered by the Academy. And that's what it's all about, like, promoting people who might not otherwise get promoted and celebrating people who might not get celebrated.
WESTERVELT: You're All Def Movie Awards is airing at the same time as the Oscars...
SIMMONS: I didn't do that.
WESTERVELT: ...On Fusion channel.
SIMMONS: I didn't do that [expletive].
WESTERVELT: (Laughter) You don't make the scheduling.
SIMMONS: No, that was like - no, that was never my intention to compete with the Oscars. I guess networks do that on their own. That's Disney against Disney. I had nothing to do with that.
WESTERVELT: Will you be watching the Oscars or your show or both?
SIMMONS: Well, I'll watch my show and then I'll watch the Oscars. I'll probably leave my house and go watch the Oscars at the Elton John party. I always do that. Then I'll go the Vanity Fair party, then I'll go to the Madonna party. That's what I've been doing for the last 10 years. I might as well do it again.
WESTERVELT: I bet the food's good at the Madonna and Elton John party.
SIMMONS: Oh, no, I'm vegan. Oh, yeah, guy always has Indian food.
SIMMONS: And I - and they always have good vegan Indian food. They make a whack vegan meal at Elton John's party. Maybe they'll get better.
WESTERVELT: Mr. Simmons, will any of those at the Def Movie Awards be attending the Oscars, you think?
SIMMONS: I think so. I don't know. The only reason I'm not going is because it's boring as [expletive]. But Chris is great. I hope he gets to remind them how much they are lacking in diversity and pushes them. His brother did.
WESTERVELT: You don't mind that people go, though?
SIMMONS: Of course not.
SIMMONS: I've never boycotted the Oscar. I just try to, in my own way, contribute to making a better Hollywood, to move Hollywood to be a leader in social justice, as it always has been, and not to have any holes in their own backyard while they continue to push for equality and all the things that they always stand up for.
WESTERVELT: Do you think your event and the proliferation of alternative digital platforms will eventually chip away at, erode the dominance of the Oscars as a cultural event?
SIMMONS: You know, a lot of the people who won wouldn't have got celebrated, and it was nice. And, you know, it was our first year, all right? It's going to look great on television. It looked great in the room. It was funnier, more entertaining, more creative. It was different from the Oscars. I don't think it has to chip away at the Oscars to be meaningful. I think it has to be its own thing. It is what it is.
WESTERVELT: Russell Simmons is the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings and All Def Digital. He joined us from NPR studios in Culver City, Calif. Russell Simmons, thanks so much for taking the time.
SIMMONS: Thank you. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.