Academy Takes Action to Address #OscarsSoWhite

This year’s Academy Awards have been overshadowed by controversy over racial diversity, or the lack thereof, among the nominees for best performance. Last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a number of radical changes to their their structure and practices meant to address concerns which have driven some, like actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and director Spike Lee, to boycott this year’s ceremony. From The Hollywood Reporter:

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled on Friday several dramatic changes in its structure and voting regulations in an effort to promote diversity. Its goal, the Academy said, is to double the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020 so that women comprise 48 percent of the organization and diverse groups make up 14 percent of total membership.

The Academy is adding three new seats to its 51-person board of governors. Rather than represent existing branches, the members chosen to fill those seats will be nominated by the president for three-year terms and then confirmed by the board. Boone Isaacs is expected to name the new board members as soon as early February. The Academy also said it will take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not on the board of governors to its executive and board committees, where decisions about membership and governance are made in the hopes of allowing new members to have a more active role in Academy decision-making.

Additional reforms will affect voting eligibility, all with the goal of improving diversity for diversity’s sake. The move has been heralded by many as long-overdue. Others, like Academy director Stephen Verona, object to what they see as an inappropriate focus on race. Again, from The Hollywood Reporter:

I never, never hire anyone because of their race, religion or political beliefs. To be lumped in as “racist” by the likes of Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith is totally out of line. I believe talent is what should be honored — gifted individuals who help make movies great.

Try telling the NBA to hire more white, Latino, Chinese or Eskimo basketball players and see the backlash. And by the way, why doesn’t Spike Lee return his honorary Oscar if he’s so incensed? If people make better movies, they will be rewarded. That’s as simple as it can be.

Perhaps the most even-handed commentary on the subject comes from Collider Video senior producer John Campea. Speaking of the Academy’s rule changes in Monday’s episode of “Collider Movie Talk,” Campea said:

Look, the Academy awards this year, the nominees were right. They got ’em right. Will Smith didn’t deserve to be nominated above the five guys who got nominated. Michael B. Jordan, who was great in Creed – you’ve heard me talk about how much I like him in Creed – on my list, he did not deserve to be on that top five. The other five performances were better than his. That’s just the way it was, and that’s the way it worked out.

… if all those sweeping changes to the Academy… had that been in place last year, I don’t think the nominees list this year would have been any different, because it goes to [film commentator Mark Ellis’s] point… it still would have been the same movies, the same actors, the same people there. This move does not fix Hollywood… I don’t think this “Oscars So White,” I think that’s completely misplaced outrage. I think the real issue here is the larger machine of Hollywood…

Campea went on to articulate how the kind of diversity which some are demanding will require the industry to produce more scripts and roles of higher quality featuring minorities. Until that happens, it can’t be expected that sub-par performances be lifted up above superior ones just to claim greater diversity among the Oscars.

Another response to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy was provided by rapper and actor Ice Cube, who characterized complaints over the lack of Oscar attention for films like his Straight Outta Compton as “crying about not having enough frosting on your cake.”