Academy membership a chance 'to have my voice heard,' says Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming

After years of working in independent film, Canadian Ann Marie Fleming has been invited to join the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, one of a record number of potential new members that could reshape the Oscar-voting body.

Window Horses creator part of new wave of invitees to Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences

Vancouver filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, whose movies include Window Horses and The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, has accepted an invitation to join the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Ann Marie Fleming has been creating animation and films since the late 1980s, but like many people, she admits she didn't always know that much about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the U.S. group that puts on the Oscars.

A trip to the Dubai Film Festival in 2017, however, changed her perspective. There, Fleming heard academy president John Bailey and governor Kimberly Peirce — director of movies such as Boys Don't Cry — speak about the movie industry group's goals and outreach initiatives.

Organizers seemed "so committed to expanding who is in the academy, to expanding what motion pictures can do," said Fleming, the Vancouver-based filmmaker behind Window Horses and The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam.

"Over the last two or three years, they have made concerted efforts to have more diversity and to work toward gender parity."

Fleming is among the record 928 people — from diverse backgrounds and dozens of countries worldwide — the film academy invited to join its ranks this week.

Since the #OscarsSoWhite backlash started in 2015, the academy has come under intense scrutiny for its lack of diversity. In 2016, it pledged to double the number of female and minority members by 2020.

Protesters gather in New York in February 2016 to rally for increased diversity in the movie industry. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

If every prospective member accepts this week's invitation, the academy's overall membership will rise to 31 per cent female and 16 per cent persons of colour, the group said in a statement.

Other Canadians were also on the list — including filmmakers Danis Goulet and actors Tantoo Cardinal and Alison Pill.

Goulet, a Cree and Métis filmmaker from northern Saskatchewan, said she is "thrilled" to become a member.

"For years, there have been calls for change in the screen industry, but in order for that to happen, established institutions must make proactive, concrete steps toward diversity and inclusion," she wrote in a statement.

"It's amazing to see the academy working toward that."

Cree and Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet is among the other Canadians invited to join the film academy that decides the Oscars. (Danis Goulet)

'Chosen to represent'

Fleming, an Asian-Canadian filmmaker of independent movies, a writer and an artist, said she knows she was "chosen to represent."

"As a woman, as an independent, as a mixed-race person, as somebody who works in a variety of different filmmaking genres, as somebody who mentors other people and who juries and selects — I take that all very seriously," she noted.

Fleming's well-received 2016 animated film Window Horses drew the notice of Hollywood insiders. Eligible for an Oscar nomination, the film didn't receive one, but Fleming was nonetheless urged to apply for academy membership by American animation producer Jinko Gotoh, who — like Fleming — was born in Japan.

Ann Marie Fleming's animated film Window Horses, features the voices of Sandra Oh, Ellen Page and Don McKellar. Oh penned a letter in support of Fleming's bid to join the film academy. (TIFF/Canadian Press)

A Canadian colleague — animator Wendy Tilby — co-sponsored Fleming's application. Canadian actor Sandra Oh, who voiced the main character in Window Horses, wrote her a letter of support.

A changing industry

As her career has progressed, Fleming has seen the film industry slowly change. In 2003, for instance, when her documentary The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, she recalled an event that year cheering the fact that there were 15 films by women screening at TIFF.

It's a great opportunity for me to have my voice heard, but it's also hopefully an opportunity for me to give back.'- Ann Marie Fleming, filmmaker

"There were 15 films by women in a festival that had over 350 films — and that included shorts... Well, it's quite different now. The representation has increased so much," she said.

Fleming said she wants to be part of that change: by learning more about the film academy and how she can be involved.

"It's a great opportunity for me to have my voice heard, but it's also hopefully an opportunity for me to give back."