The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has approved a sweeping series of substantive changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse. The Board’s goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.
“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”
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.
The decision was made at an emergency board meeting Thursday night. Academy honchos, including president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson, opted not to wait for the regularly scheduled board meeting on Jan. 26. The changes were announced Friday morning.
Also on Thursday, sources said the Academy met with ABC officials and reps of Chris Rock, confirming that he will host the Feb. 28 ceremony. 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.
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 nearly 40% of the population. Yet studio decision-makers are overwhelmingly white and male, which is reflected in their films and especially their awards hopefuls.
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.