Strong moves to build Oscar diversity

When the Oscar nominations revealed a second consecutive year of all-white acting nominees, it lit a fire under film academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American to lead the organisation.

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“I really was disappointed,” she said after the January 14 nominations.

That disappointment – and the firestorm of criticism that followed – spawned action. On Friday, Boone Isaacs announced sweeping reforms to the organisation that include doubling the number of female and minority members by 2020 and adding new governors to its leadership board.

The academy now aims for women to comprise 48 per cent of its approximately 6000 members and “diverse groups” at least 14 per cent as an initial step. Its 51-member board of governors voted unanimously for the changes, which also include limiting members’ voting rights to 10 years and expanding recruitment outreach globally.

Boone Isaacs said she is ready to embrace “any and all ways we can increase the conversation about storytelling and how to bring more diverse voices in storytelling into the marketplace”.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had been working internally to diversify its membership for several years before the “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag trended on Twitter following the all-white slate of acting nominees last year, she said. The organisation invited 322 new members to join last year, with an emphasis on women, young people and people of colour. The new inductees also included a record number of international filmmakers, she said.

But when last week’s all-white acting nominees were announced, Boone Isaacs and her academy colleagues realised it was not enough.

“We all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We need to step this up,'” she said.

Boone Isaacs said she expects the three new seats on its governing board to be filled in the next few weeks.

Other approved academy changes include limiting members’ voting status to a period of 10 years, to be extended only if the individual remains active in film during that decade. Lifetime voting rights will be granted only to Academy Award nominees and winners, and to members after three 10-year voting terms. Previously, all active members received lifetime voting rights.

Actor-director Don Cheadle applauded the move, but he said it deals with the symptom rather than the cause.

Boone Isaacs, though, hopes changes at the academy will spread through the Hollywood community and into studios’ executive offices.

“This conversation is penetrating everywhere, and that’s the good thing,” she said. “Certainly right now there’s a lot of focus on the academy. But the industry as a whole is listening.”

Ava DuVernay, director of last year’s best picture nominee Selma, tweeted that the changes were “one good step in a long, complicated journey for people of colour and women artists”.

“Marginalised artists have advocated for Academy change for DECADES,” DuVernay wrote. “Actual campaigns. Calls voiced FROM THE STAGE. Deaf ears. Closed minds.”