New Rules Aim to Improve Diversity at the Oscars ; Motion Picture Academy to Change Voting System and Recruit Minorities

By Cieply, Michael | International New York Times, January 25, 2016 | Go to article overview

New Rules Aim to Improve Diversity at the Oscars ; Motion Picture Academy to Change Voting System and Recruit Minorities


Cieply, Michael, International New York Times


Stung by criticism of its all-white Oscar nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it would change its structure to foster diversity.

Confronting a fierce protest over a second straight year of all- white Oscar acting nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has said that it will make radical changes to its voting requirements, recruiting process and governing structure, with an aim toward increasing the diversity of its membership.

The changes announced Friday were approved at an unusual special meeting of the group's 51-member governing board Thursday night. The session ended with a unanimous vote to endorse the new processes, but action on possible changes to Oscar balloting was deferred for later consideration. The board said its goal was to double the number of female and minority members by 2020.

"The academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up," the academy's president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, said in a statement. Ms. Isaacs referred to an often-repeated complaint that the academy, in its lack of diversity, reflects the demographics of a film industry that for years has been primarily white and male.

The most striking of the changes is a requirement that the voting status of both new and current members be reviewed every 10 years.

Voting status may be revoked for those who have not been active in the film business in a decade. But members who have had three 10- year terms will have lifetime voting rights, as will those who have won or been nominated for an Academy Award.

The academy's membership is made up of roughly 6,200 movie professionals around the world, and it was not immediately clear how many would be purged from the voting rolls by the new rule.

The changes, and possible balloting adjustments, will not affect this year's awards, which will be presented on Feb. 28.

In the short term, the new rules and processes may tamp down some of the criticism that resulted when no film focusing primarily on minority characters was among this year's eight best picture nominees, and all 20 acting nominees were white.

Ava DuVernay, who was not nominated last year for her direction of the best picture nominee "Selma," declined to comment on the changes, but tweeted the academy's letter, and added, "One good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color + women artists."

But the moves by the academy, which aims to replace older members with a younger, more diverse group, are certain to be met with some criticism, and perhaps resistance. Academy voting rights rank among Hollywood's more coveted marks of status, not least because of the screening invitations and flattering attention that come with them.

"I'm squarely in what I would call the mentorship phase of my life," said Sam Weisman, a member of the academy's directors' branch since 1998. While working steadily in television, he has not had a feature directing credit since "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" in 2003.

"I judge the Nicholl fellowships and the Student Academy Awards, but am I not qualified to vote?" asked Mr. Weisman, referring to academy mentorship programs in which he has been involved.

The academy will also expand its governing board by adding three new seats. Those are to be filled by the group's president with an eye toward increasing the number of women and minorities on the board. Currently, about a third of the board members are women and Ms. Isaacs is its only African-American.

In a parallel move, the academy will add new members from diverse backgrounds to its various committees.

Stephanie Allain, a producer of "Beyond the Lights" (2014) and "Hustle & Flow" (2005) and a member of the academy, said she was elated, especially with the addition of three members to Board of Governors who, she assumed, would be women or people of color.

"The world is watching, basically, so what are we going to do? …

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