Pushing for academy diversity: An a&e commentary

At 13.5 inches tall and 8.5 pounds, the “Oscar” has been the entertainment industry’s symbolic stamp of approval for films since 1929. But the past few years have seen big changes to that industry group that hands out those awards.

For two years,

the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been actively trying to diversify their members due to controversy in 2016. The backlash was ignited because all leading and supporting acting nominees were white. The incident was then appropriately referred to as #Oscarstoowhite. Despite the efforts of the Academy, without changing its rules for admitting new members, it will  take many years, if ever, for the Academy to be representative of the greater population.

To be admitted into the Academy, one must be promoted by two members who are a part of the same branch. After being promoted, the proposed member must meet a multitude  of requirements such as meeting the requisites of the individual branch and getting approved by the Academy’s Board of Governors.

The nature of admitting new members is based on connections and having a bond with existing members. This exclusivity is a barrier for groups in the film industry that have been traditionally discriminated against: people of color and women.

The actual voting process is even more complicated. Members from each branch (actors, directors, set designers, composers, etc.) rank their preferred nominees. A selection must reach a “magic number,” the total number of votes divided by the number of possible nominees plus one, in order to become a nominee. In most instances the “magic number” is not reached, so the selection with the fewest  votes is dropped and second place votes become first place votes. This voting process is the same for voting on the winners.

The core of the Academy Awards is the Academy members who annually vote for the nominees and winners. As of January 2017, there were over 6,000 members in the Academy. There has been a drastic increase in membership since then due to the Academy inviting 774 members.

The new members are more diverse than previous years. According to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times in 2012, 94 percent of members were caucasian and 77 percent of members were male. The Academy disclosed in 2017 that 13 percent of members were people of color and 28 percent of members were female.

The 2017 Academy Awards saw two African-American performers, Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis, win Oscars and “Moonlight,” the story of a black drug dealer, take home the Best Picture Oscar over the popular musical “La La Land.”  The previous year, only one high profile nomination, for Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu, went to a person of color.

The significantly more diverse class of new members is a step in the right direction for the film industry. However, the root of the problem still lies in the lack of minorities in major roles and as directors. Without disenfranchised peoples highlighted on the big screen, the diversity in the Academy  is not of any value. The industry needs to continue to encourage minority directors and actors that reflect the diverse American population.

With box office hits like “Get Out” in 2017 and “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, minorities are proving that they are capable of producing profitable films. However, these movies are both outliers, and the film industry must still take huge strides forward in order