New Oscar Members: Cheryl Boone Isaacs Says Academy Seeks ‘Normalization’

On Friday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences unveiled the names of a record 322 invitees, a big jump from the 276 and 271 in the past two years, and a giant leap from the 133 average of the previous decade.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs told Variety that the new members list reflects a push for “normalization” in its demographics, adding, “It’s been gratifying to see big increases in expanding color, gender, age and national origin in our membership this year.”

The AMPAS president points out, “The entire conversation of inclusiveness is at the forefront in Hollywood, in film, television, music, everything — and all of that bodes well for the future.” The Academy is in a position to help, since the membership includes a number of decision-makers, including executives, producers, directors — “men and women who have the ability to hire, elevate, mentor and nurture more people of color, gender, national origins.”

For years, the Academy tried to keep a cap on membership, inviting recent nominees but few others. And the lists were kept secret. Boone Isaacs said, “There had been a limiting focus in the way we invited people to join the Academy, but now we’re able to look beyond just the list of recent nominees and invite a more diverse group.”

The push is also reflected in the nominees for the upcoming board elections. “The important thing to me, to Dawn (Hudson, CEO) and to others: We want to activate our members. Every member is an ambassador to the industry. Our job is to keep our eyes and ears open to young folks coming up, and folks who have previously been overlooked who are great contributors to the industry.”

The invitees this year includes a healthy mix of outreach to women (Kristine Belson, Carolyn Blackwood, Robbie Brenner, Niki Caro, Bruna Papandrea) and international filmmakers (Pablo Barbieri, Hoyte Van Hoytema, Johann Johannsson,  Serio Mendes, Pawel Pawlikowski,  Bong Joon-ho, etc.)

Also invited were several individuals who raise eyebrows only because it’s a surprise that they weren’t already members, such as Ted Sarandos, Jeff Shell, Dave Grusin, Michael Binder, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. And, following tradition, many of the invitees were first-time Oscar nominees this year, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Suzie Davies, Emma Stone and Dan Gilroy.

Boone Isaacs, nearing the end of her second year in office, acknowledged that TV is ahead of the film industry in terms of widening its focus, after years of underestimating the audience. “We’ve seen changes through the years; it might be a little slower, but I feel strongly it’s going to pick up speed.”

After the Oscar nominations were announced, many criticized the Academy, but later acknowledged that the bigger problem is with the industry. Many pointed out the demographics of the Academy, which is overwhelmingly white, male and over 50, and called for an immediate change in the membership.

Boone Isaacs said, “I don’t know what ‘immediate’ means. Every step we take, we are stepping toward the goal of normalization — I love that word. This is a continuum. The goal is the normalization in having artists and films rep society as a whole. Each year we take steps, and sometimes the steps are smaller, but we are committed to continue with that goal.”

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