Membership

Instead of Boycotting, Use Oscars to Encourage Diversity, Group Says

By / Jan 22, 2016 (Phil McCarten/Reuters)

Don’t boycott the Academy Awards for overlooking minority talent in Hollywood, says the leader of the African-American Film Critics Association. He is encouraging Oscar attendees to use the widely watched event as a platform to press for more diversity.

Ever since the Oscar nominations were announced earlier this month, buzz surrounding the 2016 Academy Awards has focused on the lack of diversity among the contenders.

For the second year in a row, all 20 nominees in the four major acting categories are white, and minority-dominated films such as Straight Outta Compton only received nods in categories where white individuals worked on the film. The absence of minority nominees has prompted some in Hollywood, including director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith, to push for a boycott of the February 28 awards ceremony.

African-American Film Critics Association President Gil Robertson agrees that black artists and audiences have a right to be upset but disagrees that a boycott is the best way to attract attention to the lack of diversity. “It’s no secret the Academy Awards is one of the most highly watched entertainment television events in the world,” Robertson told Associations Now. “If you really want to amplify your message and perhaps enlist other followers, what better venue than on the red carpet at the Oscars?”

The lack of diversity among voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is not a new discovery. A 2012 Los Angeles Times investigation found that 94 percent of Oscar voters were white and 77 percent were male. Robertson noted that under the leadership of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, AMPAS’ first black and third female president, the Academy is doing well on its efforts to increase diversity.

“The Academy is a big machine,” he said. “The type of change we’re talking about is going to take time. We have to be patient.”

The need to diversify members isn’t a new initiative for the Academy, Boone Isaacs said in a statement last week after calls for a boycott began to swirl.

“In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation,” she said.

She also pointed out the changes the group has implemented in the past four years to diversify membership. In July, AMPAS invited 322 new people to join the Academy, and in November, Boone Isaacs announced a new initiative called A2020 to further diversify Academy staff. “Change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly,” she said.

On Thursday, the LA Times reported that the Academy’s 51-member Board of Governors added diversity to the agenda of its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday. The board could decide to remove members who haven’t been active in the film industry for several  years.

The issue of diversity won’t resolve itself overnight, Robertson said. He encouraged actors of all backgrounds to talk about the issue on the red carpet.

“Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, male, female. We are all in this world together,” he said. “We have to deal with these issues as a collective. Everyone’s going to benefit in the end.”

Update:

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors voted Thursday in favor of making “substantive changes” to ensure the Academy’s membership, governing bodies, and voting members are significantly more diverse, a news release said. Starting this year, each new member will be eligible to vote for 10 years. If the member is active during that decade-term, their voting rights will be renewed. Members no longer active in the film industry can remain members, but will not be eligible to vote. How Academy members recruit and sponsor new members also changed. Other changes include the addition of three governor seats to the Board of Governors and new members, who are not governors, will be added to the Academy’s executive and board committees.

Katie Rucke

Katie Rucke is former Associate Editor for Associations Now. More »

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