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Academy Changes Rules to Make Oscars Voting Fair, but Will It Be Enough?

“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 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.”

On Thursday night, Isaacs and the Board of Governors of the Academy approved the following changes to address the need for a more diverse voting body:

  • 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.
  • The same standards will be applied 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.
  • In order to immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the President for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board.
  • The Academy will also take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made.  This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.

The Board of Governors also stated their intent to double the number of women and diverse members in the Academy by 2020.  This weekend saw positive reactions from Black artists, noting that it is a step in the right direction.  They also noted there’s still a long road ahead and Black artists must have access to the stories they want to tell.

#OscarsSoWhite general April Reign:

Ava DuVernay:

Don Cheadle to Deadline.com: ““I think it is a step in the right direction, a needed step, but people really have to have access to tell the stories they want to tell.”

John Legend to Deadline.com:  “I think what the Academy did this week is a step in the right direction but it’s going to be a slow moving change because the Academy reflects in a large degree what the industry looks like.  For a certain type of film, the Oscar type of film, it’s kind of a narrow road and there don’t seem to be a lot of films featuring people of color.”

Steve McQueen to The Guardian:  “I’m hoping in 12 months or so we can look back and say this was a watershed moment, and thank God we put that right.”

The consensus seems to be that these changes will help, but it will still take some time. According to the Los Angeles Times, the current Oscars voting body is 94 percent white, 77 percent male with only 14 percent younger than the age of 50.  Because of this, the most noteworthy rules are the last two, where the Academy will add three new governor seats nominated by the president and new members who are not governors to their executive and committee boards.  This will help mold new members and allow them to take place in the voting process as soon as 2017, making their self-proposed goal of 2020 more feasible and not pie in the sky.

This is the most radical shake up yet under Isaacs’  administration.  Since being elected in 2013, she has pushed an agenda for more minority inclusion.  Aside from Thursday’s changes, she removed the membership cap, and upon re-election this past summer invited 322 new members into the Academy.  She has also started a new initiative to encourage more diverse hiring called A2020.  Her policies seem to be baring fruit after two years of work, and they are still just in their infant stages.

Isaacs’ radical changes parallel what happened with the Academy during the 1970s. When Gregory Peck was president from 1967-1970, he also made sweeping changes because of “just determination concerning the voting privileges of members who have been professionally inactive in motion pictures for a number of years.”

He stripped many members of their voting privileges, making them powerless.  Though his term came to an end in 1970, the results over the next few years saw more Black nominees than at any point in the Academy’s history at that point.  In 1969, Rupert Crosse became the first African-American nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Reivers.  In 1970, James Earl Jones received a Best Actor nomination for The Great White Hope.   In 1972, Sounder became the first Best Picture nominee featuring a primary Black cast.  Both Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson were nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress.  In the same year, Diana Ross was also nominated for Lady Sings The Blues.  Lonne Elder (Sounder) and Suzanne de Passe (Lady Sings The Blues) were the first African-Americans nominated in the Best Screenplay categories.

There is a precedent for these type of changes taking place in a reasonable time period; there’s no reason it can’t happen again.  There’s a worth of Black talent, and as long as the Black creative community in Hollywood strives for continued creative excellence in storytelling, these changes will only help the cause.

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