The Oscars’ Voting Body May Have Twice the Women & Minorities by 2020
Since announcing its list of nominees for this year’s Academy Awards, the Association behind the Oscars event has been forced to face some loud criticisms for its lack of diversity. With not a single minority nominated for any lead or supporting roles (and a paltry few among those nominated in other categories), the Academy only added more fuel to a criticism it has faced since its inception nearly 100 years ago. And, while not a new argument, it has taken a particularly explosive turn this time around, thanks in part to the success of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. Unsurprisingly, celebrities have gotten involved in the discussion, with Jada Pinkett-Smith, Romany Falco, and Spike Lee announcing their discontent with and resultant boycott of the awards show. There were calls for the February 28th event’s host, Chris Rock, to step down amid the backlash but he has not, leading many to believe that his opening monologue will be filled with references to the controversy.
Today, in a startlingly bold announcement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences vows to double its female and minority members by 2020, a direct result of the heated discussions over the last several weeks. While not a promise to diversify the pool of nominees, per se, it is certainly a meaningful step in addressing the very real concerns involved in the conversation. According to the New York Times, the Academy is pledging to “make radical changes to its voting requirements, recruiting process and governing structure” in an effort to include the perspectives and contributions of a more diverse list of voters, those who are ultimately the ones responsible for deciding the nominees. With an African-American woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, serving as the Academy’s president, there have been some discussions about tokenism, wherein Isaacs serves as a mere figurehead to help assuage any criticism of a lack of diversity within the body’s ranks. However, today’s developments seem to signify that – whatever the intentions – Hollywood is taking this conversation seriously.
Whether this will do much to quell the argument that minority filmmakers, actors, and others involved in cinema should care about the recognition of the Academy is unclear, but perhaps in time, the Academy’s reputation will improve. Claims of reverse racism have already begun to appear, with actors Michael Caine and Charlotte Rampling both taking issue with the prospect of not being nominated simply because they are White. However, racial progress is never not a quagmire, and while some may argue that what’s taking place in Hollywood is far less important than what is happening in politics, one can not underestimate the power of the entertainment industry in serving as a mirror of a society. Perhaps the Academy’s growing pains are in fact a harbinger or even bolder steps in this country. Only time will tell.