LOS ANGELES — “Clorox could not have made it any whiter.”
With that biting description of the people and films nominated for this year’s Academy Awards, the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd, senior pastor at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church here, on Sunday morning introduced the Rev. Al Sharpton to his congregation. And then Mr. Sharpton — opening what he promised would be a day of Oscar protests in multiple cities — ripped into Hollywood.
“They’re having a party downtown, and somebody is trying to steal our crown,” Mr. Sharpton said, as the historic black church, jam-packed with more than 400 parishioners, erupted into cheers. “Don’t let them! Don’t let them!”
Mr. Sharpton attacked the movie industry for what he described as repeated broken promises on diversity, linking the situation to moments in Scripture when kings failed to carry out vows. “We know we need to improve, let us make this right,” he said academy officials had told him last year, after a similar lack of racially and ethnically diverse nominees. He paused and then roared, “They didn’t keep their word.”
Mr. Sharpton’s appeal to the church, which has deep roots in the civil rights movement here, added to the pressure on the dozen or so black celebrities scheduled to appear on Sunday’s Oscar telecast — presenting them with the choice of using the platform to also reprimand the academy, or split with the hometown black establishment.
Mr. Sharpton promised wrath on advertisers of the Oscars telecast if they continued to support an awards ceremony that had no black nominees. “We know you couldn’t break your contracts this year, but we are putting you on notice: If you want to have another all-white Oscars, we will cut you off,” he said.
Mr. Sharpton’s group said that it was sponsoring demonstrations in seven cities, including Los Angeles and New York. Separately, several prominent artists, including the director Ryan Coogler and the singer Janelle Monáe, were scheduled to appear at a benefit in Flint, Mich. The event was a collaboration of different groups, primarily Blackout for Human Rights, to raise awareness about the water crisis in Flint. Organizers said that it was not their intention to have it coincide with the Oscars.
An hour and a half before the Flint event began, two lines were crowding the sidewalk, walkway and part of the street in front of the Whiting Auditorium, where the benefit was taking place. One line was exclusively for Flint residents, who were to be seated first.
“It means the world to be able to do this,’’ Mr. Coogler said in an interview. He said that he and other organizers felt “a responsibility to turn the spotlight onto the people, not speak for them.” He added: “We’re here to provide them with some perspective, some entertainment. We also give them a chance to be heard, and that’s the best thing we can do.”
“The strength and resilience here, and the pride,’’ he continued. “It’s a lesson learned for all of us that came in here. We came away with more than we were bringing out.”
Mr. Sharpton’s efforts also sharpened a dilemma for Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the academy’s president. Ms. Isaacs, who is black, remains fiercely loyal to a Hollywood institution she has served for decades. But she is also proud of her association with leaders of the sort who listened to Mr. Sharpton’s appeal on Sunday. Among those attending the service was Rosa Rios, the treasurer of the United States.
In January, shortly after being honored with a Rosa Parks Humanitarian Award, given by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil-rights group, Ms. Isaacs challenged the notion that all-white acting nominations for a second year in a row signaled bias within the academy.
“I don’t think there’s any pattern at all, actually,” she said at the time. But Ms. Isaacs also called the nominations “unfortunate, really disappointing.”
A protest later on Sunday, just a few blocks from the ceremony, got off to a ragged start. About 100 people carrying signs gathered in the parking lot of a defunct mini-mall and chanted slogans, and the atmosphere was more chaotic than angry. Someone had brought a speaker on wheels — kind of like a roll-aboard suitcase — and the Chic dance song “Good Times” played from it. A man held up a souvenir Oscar statuette that had been painted white.
Eventually, Mr. Sharpton arrived and things became serious. “Shame! Shame!” the crowd shouted as people in tuxedos, apparently headed to the ceremony, walked by. “Black entertainers are good enough to present white entertainers’ awards, but they’re not good enough to win the awards themselves?” shouted one demonstrator, referencing black actors and actresses who had agreed to appear on the show.
In New York City, on the sidewalk outside ABC television offices near Lincoln Center, roughly three-dozen protesters marched beneath the neon-blue glow of the network’s news ticker. Carrying hand-lettered signs reading “white supremacy dominates here” and “#OscarsSoWhite,” the demonstrators decried the lack of racial representation at the ceremony taking place across the country.
Kirsten John Foy, a minister and the Northeast regional director of the National Action Network, rallied the modest crowd. “Black and brown people have contributed to this country’s cultural development since its inception,’’ he said through a megaphone. “And we are not going to allow a racist institution to whitewash us out of history. We are here to say we reject the Oscars. We reject them as a standard of cultural excellence. We reject them as a standard of American excellence.”
Then he added to loud cheers, “We are here to say that the broadcast has been canceled in black America.”
Ade Williams, 46, who came from Harlem to participate in the protest, said that “people do a lot of learning through movies, and when black people aren’t respected onscreen they’re not respected in life.’’