#OscarsSoWhite: Academy promises historic action, Hollywood reacts

  • AFP, Los Angeles
  • Updated: Jan 23, 2016 13:53 IST
The Academy has promised sweeping reforms in response to the second year of the Oscars so white backlash.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Friday promised sweeping reforms designed to help diversify its membership in the face of a major controversy over the second straight year of all-white Oscar acting nominations.

The Academy’s board said it was taking “historic action” to double the number of women and minority members by 2020 and launch a global effort to “recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.”

Read: #OscarsSoWhite: Will Smith won’t be attending the Oscars in protest

“These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition,” said Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

The changes were approved in a unanimous vote by the Academy’s board of governors on Thursday, following days of criticism that for a second year in a row, all 20 actors nominated for Oscars were white.

Acclaimed director Spike Lee, who won an Oscar last year honouring his lifetime achievements, wrote an open letter to the Academy decrying the “lily white” nominations.

#OscarsSoWhite... Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let's Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can't Act?! WTF!! It's No Coincidence I'm Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday. Dr. King Said "There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It's Right". For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The "Real" Battle Is. It's In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To "Turnaround" Or Scrap Heap. This Is What's Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With "The Green Light" Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, "I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS". People, The Truth Is We Ain't In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont'd)

A photo posted by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

Read: Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith to boycott ‘lily white’ Oscars

Mega-star Will Smith -- one of the black actors seen as having been passed over for a nomination this year -- and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith followed Lee in announcing that they too would stay away from the ceremony on February 28.

On Friday, British actor Charlotte Rampling -- nominated for best actress for 45 Years -- waded into the row by saying Lee had been “racist to whites” in his criticism.

“You can never know for sure, but maybe black actors did not deserve to be in the final selection,” Rampling told Europe 1 radio, speaking in French.

The Academy announced that beginning later this year -- not affecting votes for the 2016 Oscars -- each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and be renewed if they have been active in movies during that time.

Members will get lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms, or if they win or are nominated for an Academy Award. The same standards will apply retroactively to current members. Those who do not qualify for active status will not be able to vote.

To increase diversity on the board of governors immediately, the Academy said it would establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the president for three-year terms and confirmed by the board.

It will also involve new members on decisions about membership and governance, giving them a chance to become more active in decision-making and to help spot and nurture future leaders.

The announcement was quickly welcomed by Ava DuVernay, director of civil rights movie Selma, which was nominated for best picture last year -- but not for best director or actor.

Tom O’Neil, founder of awards prediction site goldderby.com, told AFP it was a “dramatic first step” but urged caution on the numbers.

The Academy currently has 6,261 voting members, all of whom work in the film industry. According to a 2012 study by the Los Angeles Times, nearly 94 percent of the Academy voters are white and 77 percent male.

An Academy spokeswoman said the hope is that the reforms would lead to women making up 48 percent of total active voting membership.

“If the academy is going to double that number, that’s a huge leap up,” said O’Neil. The Times study found blacks make up two percent of the Academy and Latinos less than two percent. But O’Neil added: “Is it enough (to double up?) -- these numbers are so small.”

Read: #OscarsSoWhite: Outrage against ‘racist nominations’

In his open letter on Monday, Lee suggested that studios adopt a system akin to that used by the National Football League, which requires that minorities be interviewed when coach or executive positions open up.

Hollywood A-lister George Clooney, himself an Oscar winner, has said the problem is the lack of options available to minorities in quality films. Smith, whose role in NFL drama Concussion was overlooked this year, announced Thursday that he would follow his wife in not attending the ceremony.

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