The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is responding to the heightened #OscarsSoWhite uproar, which escalated leading up to this year’s award telecast, by attempting to diversify its overwhelmingly white and male membership. The potential list of new members includes African American actors and directors Idris Elba, John Boyega, Gabrielle Union, O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, and Chadwick Boseman.
The 90-year-old organization invited 683 industry professionals. The group of invitees is being touted as the Academy’s largest and most diverse new class ever; more than double the 322 members invited last year—of that group, 41% are people of color and 46% are women. According to the Academy’s website, this means that the total share of Academy membership for minorities has risen from 8% to 11%, and the percentage of women has grown from 25% to 27%. If all the invitees accept, total membership will reach 7,789.
The Academy’s First Black President
In January, facing harsh criticism over the lack of nominations for any actors of color for the second year in a row, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs—the institution’s first black president—announced sweeping changes aimed at doubling the number of women and minorities (which, at the time, was at 1,500 women and 535 minorities, respectively) in the Academy’s ranks by 2020. “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” Boone Isaacs said in a statement announcing the new initiative.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Boone Isaacs said that the large and diverse class is the result of a concerted campaign to show that the Academy is opening its arms to groups that have been underrepresented.
“What we found is that, as much we tried to get the information out there, it wasn’t penetrating in a way that we wanted it to,” Boone Isaacs said. “So we’ve asked all our members to be the ambassadors and pay attention to men and women who have particular skill levels in their area of expertise and get them encouraged and tell us their names so that we can make sure and reach out and connect.”
In 2012, The Los Angeles Times reported that Oscar voters were 94% white and 77% male, and by this year, those numbers had budged only slightly. According to The Los Angeles Times, the Academy is not seeking to match America’s overall demographic breakdown, but rather simply to double the numbers of women and minorities in its ranks as of 2015. To hit its goals, the Academy would have to invite at least 375 women and more than 130 people of color each year for the next four years,
April Reign, creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that first went viral on social media in 2015, told The Los Angeles Times that, although she’s heartened by the new invitees, it’s just a first step. “Work still needs to be done. #OscarsSoWhite shone a light on what already existed. Unfortunately, it appears they’re being reactionary instead of proactive. So whether they bit off more than they can chew remains to be seen.”