This year’s academy class is 46 percent women and 41 percent people of color
Now, how do we keep the Oscar voters looking this normal?
If you’ve had a chance to glance at the list of 683 people invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) this year, you might have noticed something: darn near every black person in Hollywood is on it.
Anthony Anderson? Check!
Gabrielle Union? Check!
Marlon Wayans and Damon Wayans Jr.? Check and check!
In short, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs is not messing around when it comes to instituting action to make #OscarsSoWhite a thing of the past.
Among the others invited to join? The Birth of a Nation director and star Nate Parker, noted biopic everyman Chadwick Boseman, plus Morris Chestnut, Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler, Adepero Oduye, John Boyega, Anika Noni Rose and Tessa Thompson. Seriously, everybody.
The latest developments leave more questions, however.
What happens when Boone Isaacs, now serving her third term elected as academy president, is gone? Academy presidents are allowed to serve four one-year terms before they’re ineligible to run. Boone Isaacs has used her bully pulpit as president to advocate for changes that would shift the makeup of AMPAS, and she’s been effective. What assurances are there that the work she’s spearheading will continue when she’s no longer in power?
What is the academy’s ultimate goal? If everyone invited joins this year, the academy’s female membership would increase from 25 percent to 27 percent. Its ratio of people of color would increase from 8 percent to 11 percent. It’s going to take years of inductee classes like this one to get the academy to be a more accurate representation of the country, if indeed that’s the goal.
“It might be a challenge,” Boone Isaacs told The Hollywood Reporter, “but we are continuing to keep that pedal to the metal.”
The makeup of this year’s inductees — 46 percent female, 41 percent people of color — should be the baseline for a new normal for academy classes. It’s not gender parity yet, but it’s close. Still, it takes genuine, long-term commitment to ensure that this year’s makeup becomes status quo rather than an anomaly that lasts for a few years until everyone becomes complacent again because they’re not motivated by shame and embarrassment. This year, the Los Angeles Times even generously published a rubric of its own invitee suggestions to make the academy less white and male.
So what’s required to sustain this new normal? There has to be a stream of women and people of color doing work that would make them eligible for academy membership. And that means the statistics with regard to who’s making films, writing films, casting them, producing them and starring in them have to change drastically as well, otherwise we end up right back at #OscarsSoWhite. The defining features of this year’s class are its sheer largesse and the inclusion of people you would think would have already been invited earlier but weren’t — such as Daughters of the Dust director Julie Dash.
But once you achieve that course correction from the past and exhaust candidates who were previously overlooked, such as Dash, Ashes and Embers director Haile Gerima and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song director Melvin Van Peebles, you need a continuous pool of talent from which to draw. For that to happen, the Barry Jenkins’ (Medicine for Melancholy) and Terence Nances (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty) and Tahir Jetters (How To Tell You’re A Douchebag) and Justin Simiens (Dear White People) and Victoria Mahoneys (Yelling to the Sky) and Tina Mabrys (Mississippi Damned) and Tanya Hamiltons (Night Catches Us) and Naima Ramos-Chapmans (And Nothing Happened) of the world — in short, minority directors who are likely would-be future academy members — need to be able to make more films. It’s really difficult to keep this up when directors can go eight years between their first and second feature films, as Jenkins did with Medicine for Melancholy and Moonlight, which opens Oct. 21. Directors need at least two credits in order to qualify for membership. The actors in their films need at least three theatrical feature credits to qualify for membership.
This year’s list of invitees is promising. Let’s just hope it stays that way in the future.
See the complete list at The Hollywood Reporter.