#OscarsSoWhite controversy prompts changes to film academy

Responding to an uproar over the lack of diversity in this year's Oscar acting nominees and within its own membership, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced dramatic changes.

Changes to how members vote; Immediate changes to executive and committees

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has announced changes to the group, which administers the Oscars. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

Responding to an uproar over the lack of diversity in this year's Oscar acting nominees and within its own membership, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced dramatic changes, including changing voting rights, appointing new individuals to its executive and committees, and setting a goal to double the number of diverse members by 2020.

"The academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up," academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.

"These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition."

The changes come after an unanimous vote of the academy's board of governors Thursday night, with the goal of making "the academy's membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse."

The changes include:

  • Beginning later this year, each new 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. 
  • 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 above will be applied retroactively to current members.
  • 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. 
  • Three new seats will immediately be added to the ruling board of governors, to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the board, for three-year terms.
  • New members will be immediately added to the academy executive and board committees deciding on matters of membership and governance.

The new changes will not affect voting for the Oscars in February.

The academy also plans to launch a global campaign to identify and recruit new, more diverse members.

Actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith were among the high-profile Hollywood figures speaking out against the lack of diversity in this year's Oscar nominees. The couple vowed not to attend or watch the awards. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images )

The sweeping new measures were prompted by an uproar over the fact that, for a second consecutive year, only white actors were nominated for Oscars — which many have blamed on a larger problem of systemic racism in the Hollywood studio system.

The issue began to snowball after actress and producer Jada Pinkett Smith and filmmaker Spike Lee said they wouldn't attend or watch this year's Oscars in protest against another year of all-white acting nominees. Since then, actor Will Smith and documentary-maker Michael Moore also said they wouldn't watch or attend this year's gala and the issue has spread throughout Hollywood and the wider entertainment community worldwide.

Some, including rapper 50 Cent and actor Tyrese Gibson, have called on Oscars host Chris Rock, who is African-American, to step down as emcee of next month's event.

Most have acknowledged that the 2016 Oscar nominations slate — which has been called embarrassing and disappointing — points to the wider problem: the lack of diversity in Hollywood itself, stemming from the fact that women, people of different ethnicities and those of different sexual orientation aren't accurately represented onscreen or behind the camera. Nor are they adequately reflected in the ranks of the decision-makers, from filmmakers to executive producers to studio heads.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who was famously snubbed in 2015 for her direction of the widely praised best-picture Oscar nominee Selma (along with the film's star David Oyewolo, who portrayed Martin Luther King Jr.), was among those who reacted quickly to the news.

The changes are "one good step in a long, complicated journey" for people of colour and women in the industry, she said via Twitter, adding: "Shame is a helluva motivator."


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