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Lawmakers Hope Academy Works with Congress to Make Oscars Less White

(AP Photo/File)

Two congressmen are jumping in to the Oscars diversity controversy by formally asking the Academy to ensure that a pledge to increase minority membership is not “a false step.”

This year’s nominations featured all white nominees in the acting awards, prompting the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in a Twitter uproar.

On Jan. 21, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences approved “sweeping” changes to membership rules, such as extending voting terms in regards to how long it’s been since a member actively worked in Hollywood, and promised to recruit a more diverse voting membership.

“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.”

House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law Ranking Member Hank Johnson wrote Isaacs on Wednesday, stressing that “the Academy can play a crucial role in promoting and recognizing diverse voices throughout Hollywood.”

“We share in your disappointment that for the second year running, there are no African American nominees in any major category. The recent announcement that some of Hollywood’s biggest stars will boycott the 2016 Academy Awards tells us that the time to confront this issue is now,” the congressmen wrote.

They cited Motion Picture Association of America’s Theatrical Market Statistics that note African Americans comprised almost a quarter of the audience for 2014’s top grossing films. But, they added, less than five percent of the Academy is African American. “Surely, more audiences would be drawn to films that are more reflective of the heterogeneous nature of the audience.”

“A continuing failure to recognize such an important segment of the population by the industry in general and the Academy in particular may have a negative effect on competition and diversity in this critical market place,” Conyers and Johnson wrote.

“Your recently announced plan to increase diversity within the Academy should be seen as a first step toward a broader plan to increase diversity in Hollywood as a whole; however, we hope to ensure that this is not a false step,” the congressmen added. “The motion picture industry has long been a crucial ally in the fight for justice, telling the stories that help us to see one another in a different light. We believe Hollywood should be on the leading edge of inclusion, and the Academy, by recognizing excellence from all viewpoints, can help achieve that goal.”

The ranking members invited the Academy president to meet with members of Congress “to continue this dialogue at your earliest convenience.”

“We look forward to working with you on this important issue,” Johnson and Conyers added.