The Academy Awards have become a powder keg for frustrations about Hollywood’s lack of diversity. Last year, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending after Selma failed to nab its expected nominations for Best Director and Best Actor (it was nominated for Best Picture), leaving the acting nominations exclusively white. The hashtag was revived this year when the Academy once again failed to nominate a single actor of color for any of its four acting awards, and very few people of color overall. Prominent black artists like Jada Pinkett and Will Smith, Spike Lee, and Snoop Dogg have called for a boycott of the Oscars, while George Clooney, Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, Mark Ruffalo, and Brie Larson publicly expressed frustration with the lack of diversity. Perhaps sensing it was facing a losing PR battle, the Academy—which is currently 94 percent white, 77 percent male, and 86 percent age 50 or older—decided it was finally time to make some adjustments.
In an official statement released on its website, the Academy announced “substantive changes” with the goal of “doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.” The Academy’s Board of Governors unanimously approved the changes, which seem to have three goals: First, to prevent Academy membership from stagnating. Second, to increase diversity in the Academy itself, and third, to increase diversity on the Board of Governors, which plays a major role in the Academy’s decision-making.
New Academy rules will phase out members who are no longer active in the film industry: Previously, membership in the Academy never expired, regardless of the member’s career trajectory or relation to the film industry. Now, however, voting status will last for 10 years, and will only be renewed for members who have been active in the film industry that decade. Lifetime voting rights will only be granted to those who have had three ten-year terms or those who have won or been nominated for an Academy Award (so Barkhad Abdi is set for life). These new restrictions will be applied retroactively to current members, although they won’t affect this year’s Oscars. After this year’s awards, however, current members who don’t qualify for active status will be moved to “emeritus status,” which means they don’t pay dues or vote but otherwise “enjoy all the privileges of membership.”
To diversify the voting body itself, the Academy is launching “an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.” This new program is designed to supplement the traditional process in which potential new members must receive sponsorship from two existing members of the branch they’re seeking to enter. (Or they can skip the sponsorship thing altogether and just be nominated for an Oscar instead.) Presumably, there was some concern that the sponsorship method was contributing to a “boy’s club” atmosphere at the Academy.
Finally, to diversify the Board of Governors, the Academy is adding three new governor seats to its 51-person board, as well as new members to its executive and board committees. That’s all in hopes of giving diverse voices “an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making, and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.”
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Variety reports all of these changes where made during an “emergency meeting,” and that the Academy also met with reps for Chris Rock to ensure he would still host the ceremony even after activists urged him to withdraw. According to Isaacs, “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up. These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.” Somebody better tell Charlotte Rampling and Michael Caine.