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Academy Overhauls Membership, Voting Rules to Promote Oscar Diversity

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has approved a series of major changes, in terms of voting and recruitment, also adding three new seats to the 51-person board  — all part of a goal to double the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020. The changes were approved by the board Thursday night in an emergency meeting.

Also on Thursday, the Academy met with ABC officials and reps of Chris Rock, confirming that he will host the Feb. 28 ceremony, according to sources. Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee and Will Smith said they will not attend. Some other activists had urged Rock to withdraw; he never addressed those directly, but insiders said he believes he can do more good by remaining, since the Academy Awards reach a worldwide audience.

The membership changes were announced Friday in a statement, with Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs adding, “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up. These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

The moves also affect the voting status of several new and longtime members.

Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if the new member has been active in film during that decade.  In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms; or if they have been nominated for an Academy Award.  The Acad 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.

In order to immediately increase diversity on the board, the Academy will establish three new governor seats, to be nominated by the president for three-year terms and confirmed by the board. The current board consists of 51 people.

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.

The proposals were passed unanimously at an emergency board meeting Thursday night. Academy honchos opted not to wait for the regularly scheduled board meeting on Jan. 26.

After worldwide media criticism over the Jan. 14 Oscar nominations, Academy officials knew they had to make some bold moves, and make them quickly. The image of the Oscars and the Academy were tarnished when the all-Caucasian lineup of 20 actors immediately led to bigger questions about the lack of diversity within the Academy — and ultimately within the industry.

Nobody was asking for quotas or affirmative action; instead, the protests were angry at Hollywood’s longtime failure to recognize racial and gender diversity in the country. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that non-whites constitute about one-third of the population. Yet studio decision-makers are overwhelmingly white and male, which is reflected in their films and especially their awards hopefuls.

Out of 305 eligible films, only a handful were made by directors of racial minority; only a few were directed by women.

Along with Boone Isaacs, the board’s membership and administration committee, chaired by Academy governor Phil Robinson, led the efforts to enact these initiatives.

Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and Boone Isaacs have helped champion a push to invite more diverse members; in June, the org announced invitations to a record 322 new members, representing a cross-section of the population. But with 6,261 voting members, the new additions apparently didn’t make much of a dent.

The Academy has 17 branches; actors nominate actors, editors nominate editors, and so on; the entire eligible membership votes on final Oscars.

Four days after the Jan. 14 announcement of nominations, Boone Isaacs issued a statement saying there would be “dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.” She did not give details at the time.

The Academy said it 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.”

 

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