Academy broadens voting pool

Idris Elba
Idris Elba
Lee Byung Hun
Lee Byung Hun

LOS ANGELES • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invited many more minorities and women to join on Wednesday as the first major step in reshaping its membership after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy this year.

The announcement of the unusually large new class - more than twice last year's number - followed a January pledge by the academy to double its female and minority membership by 2020 after it failed to nominate any minority actors for an Oscar for the second year in a row.

By the academy's count, 46 per cent of this year's 683 invitees are women, and 41 per cent are minorities. Included are many of the stars and film-makers who some felt were snubbed when the Oscar nominations were announced this year, including director Ryan Coogler (Creed) and actor Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation).

Black actors who were invited included Chadwick Boseman, John Boyega and Vivica A. Fox. White actors Andrew Garfield and Brie Larson, who won the Oscar for Best Actress for Room this year, were also invited, as were Asian actors Daniel Dae Kim and Lee Byung Hun, and Luis Guzman, who is Hispanic. Ice Cube, a founding member of rap group N.W.A., whose rise to fame was dramatised in Straight Outta Compton, was another invitee.

The academy's directors branch appears to be poised for some of the biggest changes. The branch, which comprised fewer than 400 film- makers last year, invited about 90 new members, including Hou Hsiao- hsien (The Assassin, 2015), Abbas Kiarostami (Taste Of Cherry, 1997), Park Chan Wook (Old Boy, 2003), and Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy, 1999 to 2003).

But the academy still has a long way to go to reach its goals, and the pace of new membership could be hard to sustain. Even if all of the new invitees join, minority membership would rise to 11 per cent from 8 per cent and the percentage of women would increase to 27 per cent from 25 per cent.

Many observers have said the root problem lies not with the academy, but with the film industry at large and the lack of opportunities it provides for women and minorities. In reaching for a more diverse membership, the academy moved well outside the United States, tapping new members from a total of 59 countries. The academy, which provided detailed statistics about its effort, said 283 of those invited were from outside the United States.

The academy's president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said she expected to see the expansive approach to membership continue until its aim of doubling the number of female and minority members is achieved, adding: "There's no limit here."

Should all those invited on Wednesday join the academy, this year's 6,262 voters would climb to nearly 7,000. The prospective total voting membership appears to represent a new high for the academy, though it had more Oscar voters when non-members were permitted to cast ballots. That practice ended by the late 1950s.

The broadening of the film academy is just one step in a process that must accelerate if the group is to meet its goals. An analysis by The New York Times of the academy's acting branch showed that unit, which had about 1,100 members last year, would have to admit about 80 actors a year, and three women for every man, to reach approximate gender parity by 2020.

About 70 actors were invited this year, roughly half of them women. Virtually everyone invited to join the academy in past years has accepted, but exact membership rolls are not made public.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'Academy broadens voting pool'. Print Edition | Subscribe