Culture

Maybe Next Year The Oscars Won’t Be So White: Academy Announces New Members

CREDIT: Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

President of Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Cheryl Boone Isaacs speaks at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

On Wednesday, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs appointed three new governors to join the Academy’s board. The Board also appointed new Academy members to each of the six Board committees “that provide oversight to specific Academy areas”:

● Actor Gael García Bernal, the Awards and Events Committee
● Cinematographer Amy Vincent, the Preservation and History Committee
● Producer Effie Brown, the Museum Committee
● Executive Marcus Hu and Animator Floyd Norman, the Education and Outreach Committee
● Executive Vanessa Morrison, the Finance Committee
● Producer Stephanie Allain, the Membership and Administration Committee

The three new governors appointed by Isaacs are Reginald Hudlin (Directors Branch), Gregory Nava (Writers Branch) and Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Short Films and Feature Animation Branch).

The other big news from the Academy: The Board decided that each branch executive committee will decide what specific criteria makes a member “active” based on guidelines established at the Board’s January meeting. A new member’s voting status lasts a decade, with renewal contingent on a member remaining active in film during those 10 years. Three 10-year terms — which do not have to be consecutive — grant a member lifetime voting rights, as does winning or being nominated for an Academy Award. Current members will be held to these standards retroactively, and anyone who does not meet the new bar is moved to “emeritus status.” All their membership privileges remain in tact, save for one: They cannot vote for the Oscars.

Isaacs — the first African-American and third female president in the Academy's history — gave both a disheartened written statement in the wake of this year's Oscar nominations and an impassioned speech at the Oscar ceremony affirming her commitment to increasing diversity within the Academy's ranks. "Inclusion only serves to make us all stronger, and it’s important that the members of the Academy and everyone in this room help deliver that message... It’s not enough to just listen and agree. We must take action.”

Less than a week after this year's Oscar nominees were announced, as outrage at the fact that zero actors of color had been recognized for the second year in a row grew louder and #OscarsSoWhite trended yet again, the New York Times reported that the Academy planned to enact “measures aimed at making its Oscar choices more diverse.”

Actions on the table at the time included nominating 10 films for Best Picture and increasing the number of acting nominees from five per category to eight or 10. But the biggest changes would come from the membership itself: By extending invitations to a broader group of individuals, and by implementing measures that would prevent members who have long been inactive in the film industry from voting for the Academy Awards.

Just two days later, the Academy confirmed many of those reports: Its goal is to double the number of female and diverse members of the Academy by 2020. Women will comprise 48 percent of the total membership; diverse groups will make up 14 percent. Isaacs also announced that the Academy would be adding three new seats to its Board of Governors, which at the time had 51 members. And, in an effort to include a broader array of talent in its ranks, the Academy announced it would launch "an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity."

While some applauded these changes — Ava DuVernay, Selma director and vocal advocate for inclusion in the film industry, tweeted that this was "One good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color + women artists" — some older members of the Academy complained that they were "being victimized," treated as if their age made them irrelevant in an industry to which they had contributed a great deal of time, energy, and talent. Tab Hunter, an 84-year-old member of the actors branch, told The Hollywood Reporter, "Obviously, it's a thinly-veiled ploy to kick out older white contributors — the backbone of the industry — to make way for younger, 'politically-correct' voters. The Academy should not cave in to media hype and change the rules without talking to or getting votes from all members first."

It's worth noting that the Academy has been less than transparent about the current makeup of its organization. As THR noted at the time, the Academy has yet to reveal how many women and people of color are, at present, members, and " in the past, when asked to provide those statistics, the Academy has said it doesn't keep track of its membership's demographic makeup."

“I’m proud of the steps we have taken to increase diversity,” Isaacs said in a statement on Wednesday. "However, we know there is more to do as we move forward to make this a more inclusive organization.”