Film academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs says that despite the organization’s internal efforts toward inclusion, a second year of all-white acting Oscar nominees made her think, “We need to step this up.”
Boone Isaacs announced that the academy will double the number of female and minority members by 2020, and will immediately diversify its leadership by adding three new seats to its board of governors.
The academy now aims for women to comprise 48 percent of its membership and “diverse groups” at least 14 percent as an initial step.
“We all are aware that our membership is pretty closed, if you will,” she said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “However, life has changed. Things have changed.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 51-member board of governors unanimously approved a series of reforms to “begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition,” Boone Isaacs said, following a weeklong storm of criticism and calls for an Oscar boycott because of the lack of diversity among nominees.
Several of Hollywood’s most prominent African-Americans, including Will Smith and Spike Lee, have said they won’t attend this year’s Oscars, which is to be hosted by Chris Rock.
“I applaud their attempts to do something about it, which is great,” said actor Don Cheadle in an interview. “But, again, this is dealing with the symptom, not starting at the root cause of how we even get to results like this, which has to do with inclusion and access and the ability for people of color, women and minorities to get at entry-level positions where you can become someone who can green-light a movie.”
Other approved academy changes include limiting members’ voting status to a period of 10 years, to be extended only if the individual remains active in film during that decade. Lifetime voting rights will be granted only to Academy Award nominees and winners, and to members after three ten-year voting terms. Previously, all active members received lifetime voting rights.
The organization also plans to diversify its leadership beyond the board of governors by adding new members to key decision-making committees, and further diversify its membership with a global campaign to identify and recruit diverse talent.
Reaction came swiftly online. Ava DuVernay, director of last year’s best picture-nominee Selma tweeted that the changes were “one good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color and women artists.” She added: “Shame is a helluva motivator.”
“Marginalized artists have advocated for Academy change for DECADES,” DuVernay wrote. “Actual campaigns. Calls voiced FROM THE STAGE. Deaf ears. Clòsed minds.”
And director Rick Famuyiwa, whose films include The Wood, Brown Sugar and last year’s Dope commented: “The devil is in the details.”
A 2012 Los Angeles Times study found that the academy was 94 percent white and 77 percent male.
UCLA’s latest annual Hollywood Diversity Report concluded that women and minorities are substantially underrepresented in front of and behind the camera, even while audiences show a strong desire for films with diverse casts. Hispanics and African Americans go to the movies more often than whites do.
UCLA surveyed film and TV executives and found that 96 percent are white.
Last year’s Oscar broadcast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, was also boycotted by some viewers because of the all-white slate of acting nominees. Ratings dipped to a six-year low for ABC.