Fri. Aug 7th, 2020

The Academy Invites Record 683 Members, Makes Good On Diversity Pledge

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The Academy released its annual list of invitees to their membership and with came a watershed of diversity that we’ve never seen before. Normally The Academy invites around 300 new members but after two years of #OscarsSoWhite acting nominees and a worldwide backlash, The Academy made real and effective efforts to change their archaic lineup of mostly male, mostly white, mostly old voters and the list of 683 new members shows that. To be clear, the fight for balance and representation at The Oscars isn’t simply a black and white issue. Finding Hispanic, Latin, Asian (north and south) or African representation within the Academy is a needle in a haystack and as a result, less representation with nominations at The Oscars. This year not only sees a huge infusion of black performers, directors and behind the scenes talent but from a wealth of non-white backgrounds. Look at some of these acting invitees:

Mahershala Ali
Adam Beach
Morris Chestnut
Loretta Devine
Carmen Ejogo
Idris Elba
America Ferrera
Luis Guzmán
Oscar Isaac
Byung-Hun Lee
Tatsuya Nakadai
Adepero Oduye
Marisa Paredes
Elizabeth Sung
Tessa Thompson
Jacob Vargas

From Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs:

[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” class=”” width=””]On behalf of the Academy, I am honored to extend membership invitations to 683 distinguished filmmakers, artists and executives who represent the best in our global film community, and who have made a lasting impact on movie fans everywhere. We’re proud to welcome these new members to the Academy, and know they view this as an opportunity and not just an invitation, a mission and not just a membership. This class continues our long-term commitment to welcoming extraordinary talent reflective of those working in film today. We encourage the larger creative community to open its doors wider, and create opportunities for anyone interested in working in this incredible and storied industry.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs

Academy President[/box]

Some newcomers received invitations from more than one group; Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) has the option to join the writers or directors. I have to assume that he will choose the directing branch but he would be a strong fit in either place. Nate Parker, whose The Birth of a Nation is likely to set this year’s Oscar race on fire, was invited by the acting branch this year but not writing or directing. The Birth of a Nation is his first film as a director but it seems that would have been a better place for him. Then again, it also feels like when Barbra Streisand was invited even before her acting debut only to find herself a winner for Best Actress in a tie with Katharine Hepburn in 1969.

The Director branch alone, which is already a pretty progressive group in terms of its nominees (this is the group that just four years ago snubbed Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow for Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke), is now so full of diversity that I think we can expect to see some dramatically different kinds of nominations (and possibly more ‘lone director’ noms like before the Best Picture expansion) than ever. Just take a look at some of the names on their list: Maren Ade, Lexi Alexander, Ana Lily Amirpour, Ramin Bahrani, Catherine Breillat, Park-Chan Wook Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Hirokazu Koreeda, Marjane Satrapi, The Wachowskis, Taika Waititi, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This infusion of women (and women of color) in a category that, even for the above mentioned progressiveness, is still such a boys club can only bring us much more exciting and worthy nominees in the future.

Let’s take a quick breakdown of the numbers for some insight on how much this new class could impact future Oscars. The invitees include 28 Oscar winners and 98 nominees. There are 283 new international members coming from 59 countries. Female members represented 46% of the new invitees, bumping their representation in the Academy to 27% (up from 25%) and People of Color saw themselves receiving 41% of the invitations and moving up to 11% of the Academy (from 8%). More than 50% of the directing invitees were women. Those overall numbers, while they might seem small, represent just how much this push was needed.
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But here’s the thing; The Academy often likes to pat itself on the back when it nominates or gives historic wins and then acts like they’ve solved racism or sexism with those wins. Since Halle Berry’s historic Best Actress win in 2002 there hasn’t been another non-white Best Actress winner. Since Kathryn Bigelow’s historic Best Director win in 2010 there hasn’t even been another female nominee in that category. These new members are a massive step to visibility and equality, to be sure, but it needs to be more than just a high-profile single year and boatload of good press to affect real change within The Academy. This can’t be a one-time thing and, these new members actually need to accept the invitations and vote. Now, more than ever.

Over the course of 24 hours or so since the list was revealed there has already been backlash, of sorts, on the inclusion of names like Anthony Anderson (“he’s in TV!”) or John Boyega (“for Star Wars?”) but please remember that Erik Estrada is an Academy member and Tom Hooper has an Oscar so, settle down. The playing down of merit of an invitee is a pretty dubious ploy and it’s easy to make fun of the fact that Erik Estrada is an Academy member. Hell, Dakota Johnson and Daphne Zuniga (?!) were also invited this year but no one’s batting an eye at their qualifications. Steve Guttenberg is an Academy member but, you know what, he voted for The Separation for Best Picture so maybe “merit” isn’t always what it looks like on the surface.

The pervasiveness of commentary that now these new members will need to “prove themselves” through their work is at best a farce and at worst amazingly discriminatory. Why should POC and women have to prove themselves more when white people and men who have been invited for years despite churning out basic biopics and mediocre work and win fucking Oscars for it? When hit with last season’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, The Academy said its goal was to double the number of women in their membership by 2020. Based on that they’ll need to add about 1,700 female members between now and then. This year, they added more than 300 but that still would mean adding nearly 350 per year for the next four years to achieve that goal. Therein lies the conundrum; where are they going to find 350 women per year if they don’t have the same opportunity as men? The Academy, and the film industry as a whole, is built on a boys club ‘who you know’ foundation with women (and POC) on the outside looking in. They are denied opportunity and possibility where others are given it freely. How many times have white, male directors been given $200M budgets only to create huge flops and then, hey, are given chance after chance to keep doing it? How many times at bat do you think Ava DuVernay would have with a huge blockbuster to pull it off and how much scrutiny would she have to endure before the endeavor even took off? This is the imbalance that needs to be addressed even more than the inclusion to the conversation but it’s a start, a really good one.

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