Cynthia Erivo Responds to 2020 Oscar Nominations' Lack of Diversity

Cynthia Erivo

Cynthia Erivo attends the 25th Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on Jan. 12, 2020 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Cynthia Erivo was 30,000 feet above the Pacific when she found out that she was nominated for two Academy Awards on Monday (Jan. 13), but she may as well have been on the moon.

"I’m literally in my seat going, 'I can’t say anything! I can’t scream, I can’t jump up and down, I can’t do anything, but I know this is happening!'" she tells Billboard hours after receiving the news of her nominations. "I just sent a bunch of texts to as many people as I possibly could. It was just crazy because I [was] in the air! I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t call anyone! It was the most surreal and exciting moment I’ve had for a really long time."

For her performance as Harriet Tubman in the biopic Harriet, Erivo earned a best actress nomination. Alongside her co-writer Joshuah Campbell, she's also nominated in the best song category for "Stand Up," the powerful and inclusive anthem that serves as Harriet's theme.

Unfortunately, the Academy at large refrained from taking a cue from "Stand Up," as several notable performers of color were overlooked -- including Jennifer Lopez's acclaimed supporting turn in Hustlers, Beyoncé's work on The Lion King soundtrack and Awkwafina's leading performance that earned her a best actress Golden Globe but not an Oscar nod  -- so much so that several categories of do not feature a single nominee of color.

"I’ll put it this way: I think it’s a little sad that this is nothing new," says Campbell when asked about the dearth of diversity at this years' Oscars. "This happens a lot to black artists, specifically, and also artists of color who are marginalized or pigeonholed and that sort of thing, and that shows up in the nominations. I wish I was in more diverse company, I will say that."

Erivo is hopeful that this moment can be an opportunity to double-down on inclusion and celebrate the stories -- from everyone, and everywhere -- that pop onscreen. 

"Across the board, I’m really hoping that we can take a step back and start looking at what we’re actually doing," she says. "I want everyone to look at these awards and start realizing that they’re a moment to celebrate the work of people from all walks of life, all nationalities, all creeds and all races. There’s so much beautiful work that happened this year from everyone.

"We have to start being okay with celebrating them while they’re here," Ervio continues about contemporary artists. "Too often, we wait until people are gone to give them their roses. I think now we have an opportunity to start celebrating them whilst they’re here. There’s so much great work from the women in our industry and other women of color, other men of color that also deserve to be lauded and celebrated and given their just due. I hope that this is a moment where we can stand back, take a look and go, 'Okay -- we need to make some changes.'" 

2020 Academy Awards