Shame Motivates The Academy to Make Changes for Diversity

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Today The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a number of changes that will encourage diversity among its membership. Why? Well…

https://twitter.com/AVAETC/status/690635024287174656

Following a week in which multiple high-profile members of the industry – Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee and Will Smith – not only criticized The Academy’s lack of diversity, but also committed to not attending The Oscars, The Academy’s board of directors held an emergency meeting on Thursday evening. The following morning, we have a few major changes to their rules, their board and the diversity of its voting body.

In a statement, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs made the following comment, “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.”

Per Variety, the changes are as follows:

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.

This is an important first step. And it’s important to recognize that the Internet’s swift and loud #OscarsSoWhite campaign had a meaningful impact in encouraging The Academy to make changes. Will this solve the issues of diversity that still plague the Hollywood system? Not at all. But this very aggressive criticism of one of its most prominent institutions does bring about both awareness and action.

Over the course of this discussion, it’s been easy to get lost in hyperbole and miss what’s really the issue here. The Academy is a body of over 6,000 people who put forth a list of Oscar nominations that was painfully and obviously lacking in diversity. To say things like “The Academy is racist” intimates that there’s some grand conspiracy against women and people of color. That’s not The Academy’s problem. Their problem is in the makeup of their membership. According to the 2010 Census, almost 40% of the population of the United States is non-white. Just over 50% of the population is female. Our world is a diverse place. The voting body of The Academy is comprised of 94% white, 77% men. That’s the problem. Like Hollywood at large, The Academy is a very homogenous group. The only way to enact longterm, meaningful change, is to change the voting body demographics.

Will this solve the #OscarsSoWhite issue right away? No. Is it possible that even a more diverse voting body of The Academy could still end up voting for a list of super white nominees? Possible, but less likely. And far less open to such widespread criticism. This change is The Academy saying, “We recognize that we need to change our demographics and we’re going to do it.”

We’re a long way from The Academy becoming an organization that is demographically reflective of our country. What matters is that there’s progress. It took a lot of very public negativity to get The Academy to act, which isn’t a good look for them. But they did act in a swift and meaningful way. For that, they deserve credit. And they deserve further attention as they go forward. As Ava DuVernay tweeted following the announcement, this is “one good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color and women artists.”