On Wednesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its newest class of members. This will be the first class to be inducted after back-to-back years in which not a single actor of color was nominated for an Oscar; the backlash to that stunning act of exclusion, loud in 2015 and deafening by 2016, sparked a national conversation about the lack of diversity within the Academy’s ranks.
As promised, the class is significantly more diverse than in years past. Of the 683 inductees, 46 percent are female, raising the total representation of women in the Academy from 25 to 27 percent. People of color make up 41 percent of the new class. Prior to this year, the AMPAS was only 8 percent non-white; with the addition of these new members, that stat jumps to an improved-but-far-from-ideal 11 percent.
The complete list can be found at the Oscars website. It includes actors Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War and James Brown biopic Get On Up), Carmen Ejogo (Selma), and America Ferrera (probably best known to audiences for her role in TV’s Ugly Betty). Ice Cube, who did not receive a nomination for last year’s Straight Outta Compton and publicly criticized the Academy for snubbing the film — “maybe we should have put a slave in Straight Outta Compton. I think that’s where we messed up.” — also scored an invite, as did Tessa Thompson (Creed, Dear White People). Three of the internet’s favorite boyfriends also made the cut: Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac, and Michael B. Jordan.
Mary J. Blidge, Sia, and Will.i.am were invited to the Music branch, and the Writers branch welcomed Mean Girls genius Tina Fey, Emma Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay based on her novel Room, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl screenwriter Marielle Heller.
In the directors branch, Ana Lily Amipour, who helmed the striking A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, joins alongside Ryan Coogler, who directed the excellent and overlooked-by-the-Academy Creed and Fruitvale Station and Beasts of No Nation director Cary Fukunaga and Gillian Robespierre, director of abortion comedy Obvious Child. Coogler was actually invited in multiple branches; he’s also recognized as a writer, as is Ice Cube.
Filmmaker Dawn Porter, whose outstanding Trapped showed the human cost of the abortion TRAP laws the Supreme Court struck down just this week, is a new member of the Documentary branch, as is Asif Kapadia, whose phenomenal Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy, took home the Oscar for Documentary Feature this year.
Hollywood Sure Loves Sequels: For The Second Year In A Row, Zero Actors Of Color Get Oscar…Another year, another #OscarsSoWhite: Despite 2015 being the year that brought us the stunning Beasts of No Nation …thinkprogress.orgThough efforts to up the percentage of women and people of color in the largely white, male organization have been in the works for several years, in the aftermath of this year’s Oscar nominations, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs made a formal announcement promising swift, significant change. “I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion,” she wrote. “The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.”
Less than a week after the Oscar nominations came out, AMPAS announced exactly what those “dramatic steps” would be. The changes were approved at a special board of governors meeting the night before and were unanimously endorsed. The ambitious but necessary vision: To double the number of female and minority members by 2020. (Before this new class joined, those numbers stood at approximately 1,500 and 535, respectively.)
Sounds like a stellar idea, but considering an L.A. Times analysis from earlier this year found Oscar voters were 91 percent white and 76 percent male, the Academy has quite a ways to go. As the Times put it, “To achieve its goal, The Times estimates the academy would have to invite at least 375 women and more than 130 people of color each year for the next four years. To put that in context, last year’s class of invitees — touted as the largest and most diverse ever — was 322 people, and the majority of them were white men.”
While this fact does not absolve the Academy of any responsibility to improve, there is the argument to be made that AMPAS is just a reflection of the film and TV industries at large. The numbers there, for women and people of color, are abysmal. Hollywood hiring practices are so sexist they constitute a civil rights violation; this May, in response to an official request by the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, federal agencies launched “a wide-ranging and well-resourced investigation into the industry’s hiring practices.”
The more controversial amendment to the Academy bylaws was a new voting requirement which stated that voting status must be renewed every decade and can be revoked for inactive members — those who have not participated in the film business for a decade. Three 10-year terms grants a member lifetime voting rights, as does winning or being nominated for an Oscar.
From Backlash To Boycotts: A Complete Timeline Of The 2016 Oscars Diversity ControversyWhat is going on with this year’s Academy Awards? Since the Oscar nominees were announced less than two weeks ago …thinkprogress.orgSome applauded what they deemed overdue and important progress. Selma director Ava DuVernay tweeted that the letter was “one good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color + women artists,” and Steve McQueen, the only black director to have ever won an Oscar (for 12 Years a Slave), told the Guardian that he was optimistic the country would look back a year from now and “say this was a watershed moment, and thank God we put it right.”
But the changes were not without critics: Older members who felt that the changes were ageist, unfairly targeting the most senior members based on a false, prejudiced assumption that anyone over a certain age must be racist or sexist. And a few white actors made headlines with foot-in-mouth comments about the changes were “racist to whites” (thanks, Charlotte Rampling) or that black actors should “be patient” (sure thing, Michael Caine) or that it’s easier to be black than it is to be a woman (okay, Julie Delpy). All of the aforementioned stars walked back their comments in the days that followed.
Three days after announcing the new rules, AMPAS posted a “Frequently Asked Questions” page to clarify what the changes meant for members and moviegoers alike. No one, the post assured the film industry, is getting “kicked out” of the Academy. Non-voting members are still members; they are granted “emeritus status” and enjoy all the other privileges of membership. The guidelines read: “We want the Oscars to be voted on by people who are currently working in motion pictures. Voting for the Oscars is a privilege of membership, not a right.”
Another big change: the creation of three new government seats to be filled by women and people of color. As ThinkProgress reported earlier this year, those individuals will be nominated by the president and voted on by the board. New members will be “actively recruited” by AMPAS, and non-governor seats are being added to the six board committees “that oversee all Academy activity.”
“We are not lowering any standards,” the Academy’s announcement said. “We’re widening our net.”