"Boycott Is Not Off the Table" Despite Oscars' Dramatic Diversity Effort

A local African-American leader says an Oscars boycott that has been gaining steam after the nominations for Hollywood's highest honors snubbed actors of color is still on despite a move by the Academy Awards to dramatically diversify its membership.

"At this point the boycott is not off the table," said Najee Ali of the National Action Network's Los Angeles chapter.

He said that the national organization's founder, Rev. Al Sharpton, would make the final call, possibly today. Sharpton was scheduled to hold a teleconference with reporters tomorrow at 4 p.m. regarding the group's "TV Tune Out" of the Oscars.

The local chapter initiated the boycott, and it has gained momentum as luminaries such as Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith said they would not attend the Feb. 28. ceremonies. The boycott also has been buoyed by the second-year social-media campaign #OscarsSoWhite.

The Beverly Hills–based Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced today that its board of governors voted unanimously to phase out automatic lifetime membership.

The "historic action," the academy said in a statement, was a direct response to criticism over the snub of minorities in the Oscars' acting categories for the second year in a row.

Performances by Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson and Will Smith didn't make the cut. And buzz-worthy entries from the movies Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and Straight Outta Compton (which had multiple black leads) were not nominated either.

The academy's voting membership is more than 90 percent white, and with lifetime membership the body has been slow to change despite more than a decade's worth of pressure from minority groups. Los Angeles, home to the film industry, is about 75 percent nonwhite.

The move by the AMPAS board of governors last night includes a goal to double the number of "diverse" members by the year 2020, the organization said in its statement.

Here's how it would work, according to the academy:

Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years, they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars. 

The academy also said it will "supplement the traditional process" by which members sponsor prospects in order to increase diversity.

On top of that, the board of governors is adding three new three-year seats, to be nominated by the president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who's African-American.

"The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” Isaacs said. "These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition."

Ali was not entirely impressed.

"Obviously we're grateful to Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the rest of the academy," he said. "But we have to be mindful that we were promised progress last year. We've heard this song before."


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