In this, the second consecutive year of #OscarsSoWhite meaning no actors of color were nominated for an Oscar, pity Cheryl Boone Isaacs. She is the first African-American president in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and third female president. During her tenure, the Academy membership has swelled to 6,261, with invitations sent out to as many as 322 potential new members each year, a departure from the old norm of inviting no more than 100 new members annually. Following the lead of her predecessor Tom Sherak, she is actively trying to diversity the Academy, an ongoing necessity ever since the Los Angeles Times‘ remarkably damning 2012 study determined 94% of Oscar voters were Caucasian, 77% were male, with an overall median age of 62, as reflected in this following infographic:
Well, screw that noise. Isaacs has been inviting people like Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, British thespian David Oyelowo, African-American comedian Kevin Hart, African-American musicians John Legend and Common, South Korean actor Choi Min-sik, British actresses Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Felicity Jones, Argentinian and Polish directors Damian Szifron and Pawel Pawlikowski, to name a few. Memberships are rarely ever turned down, and it’s kind of like the mob – once you’re in, you’re in for life.
That’s actually part of the problem. Change will be slow because while the Academy adds youth and diversity at the bottom it still has to wait for its older members to tie off at top, a similar issue faced by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Interestingly, the BBWAA recently culled its membership (eliminating those writers who haven’t actively covered the sport in years), resulting in a more progressive vote for the most recent round of Hall of Fame selections. The Academy has made similar efforts, on a far smaller scale, but their hand was largely forced because the LA Times study discovered many Academy members had died but were still active voters because their kids kept accepting screeners (and conveniently forgot to mention, “Oh, btw, my dad/mom died.”)
While that morbid reality is hopefully behind us, all the new members are thought to be highly motivated to bring about change. One consultant told The Hollywood Reporter, “And the new guys aren’t jaded. They’re not off shooting in Toronto, telling you they’ll get around to voting, then not doing it. They want to fill out their ballots.” There are multiple anecdotes about freshman members of the Academy actually calling studio publicists to inquire about screeners as opposed to simply waiting for them to arrive whenever the studios get around to sending them out.
Optimistic reaction: Look at those up and comers taking the initiative. They’re clearly taking this seriously.
Pessimistic reaction: Maybe they just want the screeners so they can pirate them, although these days if you do that the digital watermark will give you away – just ask the producer responsible (possibly indirectly) for the leaks of The Revenant and The Hateful Eight.
However, it’s not like all of the 327 new invitees from last year came from the rich, diversity rainbow. Many of them are firmly entrenched Hollywood types (i.e., white dudes), and this is an industry which is quite literally under federal investigation for unfair hiring practices, specifically as it relates to women. The Academy can’t fix that. Sure, they can try to help. For example, the Academy conducted an all-day event in the fall to encourage minority filmmakers to enter the business. However, that is an ultimately industry-wide issue which is bigger than the Academy. As Deadline argued, “Much of the lack of nominees of color often is said to lay more at the hands of the industry and its employment practices and green lights for movies, rather than the Academy, which really is at the end of the filmmaking process and looking to honor quality wherever they may find it.”
You can’t invite members which don’t exist just as you can’t nominate movies which aren’t being made.
Except this year there were multiple movies (and performances) worthy of nomination. That’s what makes it so frustrating. Last year, Selma was nominated for Best Picture but snubbed for Best Actor and Director. At least there, you could sift through plenty of arguments about the merits of David Oyelowo’s performance and Ava DuVernay’s directing, and somewhat understand why they went un-nominated (translation: not everyone loved that movie). This year, though….(from Tribecca):
Once again, the Academy Awards are purely a white affair when it comes to acting nominations, and it’s especially frustrating in a year that saw exceptional performances from Idris Elba and young newcomer Abraham Attah in Beasts of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson in the box office smash Creed, and fresh faces Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., and Jason Mitchell in the even bigger box office smash Straight Outta Compton. The latter two films come with additional downer facts, too: Creed and Straight Outta Compton, two of 2015’s biggest and most critically acclaimed wide-release movies, were directed by black filmmakers, Ryan Coogler and F. Gary Gray, respectively. And neither one of them received any Oscar love.
In other words, there were three or four different Selma‘s this year. One or two being snubbed, sure, but all of them? Not cool, Academy.
Isaacs knows that. She told Deadline, “Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness (of the films nominated). This has been a great year in film, it really has across the board. You are never going to know what is going to appear on the sheet of paper until you see it. We have got to speed [our diversity efforts] up.”
She was happy to point out the presence among Latinos in this year’s nominations with Gonzalez Iñárritu’s Revenant leading all movies with 12 nominations, as well as the number of female producers and writers on the list this year. However, she may ultimately need to move even faster than she realizes on the diversity front because, as Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker pointed out:
While the movie industry is churning out #OscarsSoWhite projects, it’s on TV that women like Kerry Washington (Scandal), Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), Tracee Ross (Black-ish), and Uzo Aduba (Orange Is The New Black) find meaty roles. It’s on TV that Latinas—Gina Rodriguez in Jane The Virgin, Jennifer Lopez in Shades of Blue, Eva Longoria in Telenovela—get a chance to shine. And Asian actors, like Priyanka Chopra on Quantico, the super-funny cast of Fresh Off The Boat, and Dr. Ken‘s Ken Jeong, have primetime slots as well. (And we can’t forget Aziz Ansari on Master Of None!) Hell, there was even an entire Filipino family having Thanksgiving dinner on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
#OscarsSoWhite? Thank God we have TV.
#OscarsSoWhite The Academy’s Black, Female President Proudly Announced Straight Outta Compton had been nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but all four of the nominated writers are actually white.