The Oscar Academy Changed the Rules But Still Doesn’t Get It

Halle_Berry_oscarThe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced new measures aimed at making the Oscars more diverse. And a quick look at the “solutions” shows that the Academy is still missing the mark when trying to understand why everyone got upset in the first place.

In a press release, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) President Cheryl Boone Isaacs coined the following changes as an effort for the Academy to “lead and not wait for the industry to catch up” in regards to Hollywood’s diversity problem:

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 ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. 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. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars.

At the same time, the Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.

In order to immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the President for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board.

The Academy will also take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.

Along with Boone Isaacs, the Board’s Membership and Administration Committee, chaired by Academy Governor Phil Robinson, led the efforts to enact these initiatives.

The Academy seems to be obsessed with the makeup of its own body, as if adding more members would right all of the ills of the industry. Marginally increasing diverse membership on a percentage scale doesn’t alter representation at awards’ time or in the industry at-large. This type of faux inclusion just sidesteps having to deal with the truth and doing the hard work.

In truth, the Academy is fighting a battle that it isn’t in a position to fix, a problem that was ironically created by and continues to be perpetuated by members of its own body.

All of these ideas are band-aids for a diseased industry. Even with more diverse productions proving to be profitable, studios have been slow to actually move in that direction. Instead, the “run by old white men” studios have stuck to their white is right and 1950’s mentality formulas to populate their film slates.

In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite this year, one of my favorite video commentaries is from Francesca Ramsey. In her “nail tutorial”, she goes all the way in on the nomination failures this year.

In particular, I love when she addresses the best actor and best supporting actor nominations, saying

“I’m not using black or brown hues because we don’t have any people of color portraying slaves or women of color being abused or playing stereotypical subservient roles. If only Creed had been a slave movie, maybe Michael B. Jordan could have stood a chance.”

Are minority actors only valuable if they play certain roles? History would lead us to believe ‘yes’. Hell, the present points to ‘yes’. Within the last week, Oscar nominee Charlotte Rambling said in an interview that the notion of an Oscar boycott is “racist to whites”  because “perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list”. She then goes on to say “But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?” This so succinctly points to the even deeper issue that these proposed measures are ill-equipped to correct.

Yes, there should be minorities everywhere. They should be in movies in lead and supporting roles. They should be extras walking in and out of frame. They should be directing, producing, writing, scoring, and editing films. And wanting that or being upset that this is not our reality should be expected. That frustration should be shared across everyone, no matter their ethnicity, race, color, creed, gender, or any other classification.

Adding diverse membership to the already overwhelmingly white male Academy doesn’t make more substantive roles appear for minority actors. It doesn’t make the old, white, and wrong-headed men (or their thinking) go away. It doesn’t change the status quo. What it does is distract us from the cause and the glaring bigotry we face everyday. Until the Academy adequately addresses the real issues and pushes for its own membership to create more representative entertainment, all of this is pointless.


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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.