January 25, 2016
By Joy Cannon
On the heels of a growing protest, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced major changes to its membership requirements and recruitment processes in an attempt to diversify their membership and hopefully, in turn, increase diversity among worthy nominees and award winners. All of these changes are being made with the goal in mind to double the number of minority and female members by 2020. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the African-American president of the Academy who had previously mentioned that she herself was “heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion” added to the Academy’s recent announcement that, “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up.” However, Stephanie Allain, producer for Beyond the Lights and Hustle & Flow, told the New York Times, “The academy is the endgame.” Though a noteworthy and overdue change, Isaacs and Allain both make an interesting point that though there are minority and female industry members that were surely left out of this year’s nominations, the root of the problem is the lack of diverse representation in films.
According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report compiled by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, there is a severe underrepresentation of both minorities and women. Caucasians are more likely than minorities to be film leads, directors, and writers. This could have something to do with the lack of representation that continues in upper management of the film industry. As of this past year, film studio heads were 94% white and 100% white and film studio senior management was 92% and 83% white. It seems that Allain is right when she continues to say, “…the beginning of the game is the industry responding to the curated talent that comes through programs like Film Independent, the folks that go through the Sundance Film Festival and the LA Film Festival. They just need jobs. That’s how we’re really going to solve the problem – not by more programs or committees, but by jobs.”
Of course, there is likely to be negative backlash or resistance to the Academy’s changes. Some are likely to agree with actress Charlotte Rampling, among this year’s Caucasian nominees, that such protest and changes are “racist against whites.” Rampling, in an interview with French radio station, Europe 1, added “One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list.” Perhaps Rampling didn’t have the opportunity to view critically acclaimed performances such as Michael B. Jordan in Creed or Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, but there is no denying that such performances were worthy of at least a nomination by the Academy.
Though Hollywood giants Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith were among the first to publicly protest the Academy and its awards ceremony, others were quick to follow including Will Smith, Snoop Dogg, and Michael Moore. Perhaps these subsequent protestors were as moved as I was to read Spike Lee’s Instagram post on Martin Luther King Jr. Day explaining his refusal to attend the ceremony.
Aforementioned protestors have yet to comment whether the changes will change their minds about attending the ceremony; however, the Academy has stated that this year’s nominees will not be effected by these recent changes.
Personally, I will be watching this year’s ceremony. Though I am typically not a fan of award shows to begin with, I am excited and anxious to hear how host, Chris Rock, will respond to these recent protests and changes. It is my hope that Rock, who has never shied away from addressing racial issues in his stand-up comedy, will address such issues in a manner that may just get America’s attention.