Academy changes its rules to diversify, plans to double the number of women and minority members by 2020

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Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Photo provided

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Photo provided

The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Friday that it has approved “a sweeping series of substantive changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse”

The Board’s goal, according to a news release, is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.

“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, in the release. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

The changes have clearly been prompted by the #OscarsSoWhite uproar, the decision by some black actors and filmmakers (notably Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee) to boycott the Feb. 28 Oscars ceremony and the rest of the weeklong furor after the Academy for the second year unveiled a list of nominees in which none of the acting contenders are people of color. (To see the list of nominees for yourself, click here.)

Beginning later this year, each new Academy member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade, according to the release. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award.

The Board will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting, according to the release.

The changes will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars, but compared to how fast Hollywood and the studios have reacted to the changing times and increasing calls for more diversity, it’s practically happening at light speed.

At the same time, the Academy announced in the release that it will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.

In order to immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the Boone Isaacs for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board.

The Academy will also take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.

Along with Boone Isaacs, the Board’s Membership and Administration Committee, chaired by Academy Governor Phil Robinson, led the efforts to enact these initiatives, the release states. (To read the news release in its entirety, click here.)

The changes are reminiscent of those then-Academy President Gregory Peck enacted in the late 1960s when Oscar voters seemed out of step with American society. As the Associated Press reminds us, Peck led a purge of the academy in an effort to lower the average age of the membership. Following a two-year study of membership to various academy branches, Peck and the Board of Governors took away the right to vote for the Oscars from many retired members, and brought in classes of younger members. In all, he changed the status of nearly 500 members.

While the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among the 2016 acting nominees and the corresponding outcry catalyzed the Academy’s Board of Governors to make these changes, it’s good news for women, too. Remember, Boone Isaacs is the first African American to serve as president of the Academy, but she’s also just the third woman president (after Bette Davis and Fay Kanin).

As previously reported, women make up about 24 percent of the total pool of 2016 Oscar nominees, up from roughly 21 percent in each of the last two years.

By The Hollywood Reporter’s count, 215 people are nominated for Oscars this year, including 51 women. Last year, 44 women were nominated out of a total pool of 213; and the year before that, 45 out of a total pool of 220.

While it’s good that the numbers are going in the right direction, women still make up more than half the population but represent less than a quarter of this year’s Academy Award nominees. And that’s not good.

Viola Davis appears in her Emmy-winning role as Annalise Keating in "How to Get Away with Murder." ABC photo

Viola Davis appears in her Emmy-winning role as Annalise Keating in “How to Get Away with Murder.” ABC photo

Viola Davis weighs in on the Oscars

Many actors and filmmakers have weighed in on the Oscars’ diversity issues in the past week or so, but no one’s comments struck me as more thoughtful than those from two-time nominee Viola Davis.

“The problem is not with the Oscars,” she told Entertainment Tonight at ELLE’s Sixth Annual Women in Television Dinner. “The problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system.”

The first black actress to win an Emmy (it took until last year to reach that milestone, by the way) called the lack of diversity at the Oscars “a symptom of a much greater disease.”

“How many black films are being produced every year? How are they being distributed? The films that are being made, are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role? … Can you cast a black woman in that role? Can you cast a black man in that role?” she said in her ET interview.

“You can change the Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?”

It’s great that the Academy is making changes to embrace diversity. But even the most outspoken critics of this year’s #OscarsSoWhite list of nominees could only list a few specific examples of people of color and their films that were snubbed: Creed‘s director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan (the film’s only nominee was a white man, Sylvester Stallone, for supporting actor); Straight Outta Compton‘s absence in the best picture category as well as the lack of Oscar recognition for its excellent ensemble cast (film’s only nomination, for its screenplay, went to two Caucasians); and the omissions of Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation and Smith for Concussion in the best actor contest.

Four movies. Did Hollywood only produce four high-quality movies about people of color in 2015? It wouldn’t surprise me given the industry’s diversity issues, but it proves Davis’ point: It’s hard to vote for what’s not there. If the pool of contenders is that small, it’s not surprising when you see a lack of diversity among the nominees, especially when films like Straight Outta Compton (about NWA revolutionizing hip-hop in the 1980s) and Creed (a surprisingly bright spot in the rather uneven series of Rocky movies) are going to be tough sells for some voters.

In analyzing the inequalities in this year’s Oscars for Variety, Tim Gray points out that there were 305 films eligible this year for Academy Awards. If hiring reflected the U.S. population, Oscar voters would have weighed 150-plus films directed by women, 45 directed by blacks, 50 by Hispanics, and dozens of movies by directors who are Asian-American, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities and members of other minorities. Of course, he notes, the actual tallies were a fraction of those numbers.

And the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television at San Diego State University could tell you that the numbers for women are dismal. In 2015, women comprised just 19 percent of the filmmakers working behind the screen on the top 250 domestic-grossing movies as directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers, according to The Hollywood Reporter, citing a newly released study from the center.

“It’s very easy to be misled by a few high-profile cases,” Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the center, who oversees the annual report, known as The Celluloid Ceiling, told the trade publication. “Easy to name a few high-profile women directors. And then the assumption is everything is OK and things have changed, which is why I think counting the numbers of women’s employment is so important. I would hope it grounds the conversation in reality.”

The same is true for Hollywood’s failure to represent minorities: It’s easy to look at, for instance, Smith’s past Oscar experience – he’s been nominated twice for best actor and both times lost to fellow black actors – and assume that Hollywood’s doing fine until you start breaking down the numbers.

And the numbers just don’t add up to anything resembling equality.

Charlize Theron stars in "Mad Max: Fury Road." Warner Bros. photo

Charlize Theron stars in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Warner Bros. photo

BAM’s top 10 of 2015

Today, I published my list of top 10 films of 2015 at my BAM’s Blog. More than half the films of my list share stories that focus on women or girls: Mad Max: Fury Road, Brooklyn, Inside Out, Room, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Far From the Madding Crowd (Additionally, I would argue that Ava’s narrative in Ex Machina also drives that film and that Domhnall Gleeson’s character primarily functions as a stand-in for the audience).

It was refreshing this year to see so many fantastic films with female protagonists. My hope for 2016 is to see more marvelous movies from female writers and directors.

Here is my list of the best 10 movies of 2015; to read my mini-reviews for each film, click here:

1. “What We Do in the Shadows”

2. “Mad Max: Fury Road”

3. “Brooklyn”

4. “Ex Machina”

5. “The Big Short”

6. “Inside Out”

7. “Room”

8. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

9. “Spotlight”

10. “Far from the Madding Crowd”

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis in a scene from the film, "Brooklyn." Fox Searchlight photo

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis in a scene from the film, “Brooklyn.” Fox Searchlight photo

Quick hitters

Saoirse Ronan taking off with Lady Bird. Saoirse Ronan, who last week received an Oscar nomination for best actress for Brooklyn, is set to star in Lady Bird, the writing and directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig, reports Deadline.com. IAC Films is financing the film, which is being produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Evelyn O’Neill. Ronan will play a high school senior, spending her last year at home in Sacramento. Ronan will work this around her Broadway debut this spring in Arthur Miller’s classic drama The Crucible, which Rudin is also producing.

Remembering Golden Age screenwriter Frances Marion. Time has a fascinating feature on Frances Marion, one of early Hollywood’s most influential and highest paid writers. She won two Academy Awards and practically became the voice of MGM in the freer pre-studio era, during which many women were active as directors, writers, producers and editors. She walked away from her once-fruitful career after she grew disillusioned with the more structured, restrictive environment that Hollywood was becoming. By the late 1930s, she claimed that being a screenwriter was “like writing on the sand with the wind blowing.” Read her story; she deserves to be remembered and beloved

Alicia Vikander gets into the Bourne 5 action. Alicia Vikander, who is nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for The Danish Girl and also starred in the excellent thriller Ex Machina, is getting into the espionage action with Matt Damon, Vincent Cassel and Julia Stiles in the fifth movie in the Bourne series.

“I’m not doing the conventional action but I’m very action-driven in this film,” she recently told TheWrap. “But it’s not in the way most people would think.”

-BAM

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