Oscars Still So White
Ted Soqui/L.A. Weekly
In typical Hollywood fashion, there was a lot of hype surrounding the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' membership invitations to those who will form its most diverse class ever.
The class of 683 new members is 46 percent female and 41 percent minority, the academy said.
The move came in the wake of this year's #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign, which wouldn't let the February awards' lack of minority acting nominees escape attention. Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson and Will Smith were among those passed over.
Following the controversy, the academy's Board of Governors voted unanimously to phase out automatic lifetime membership, which allows the likes of retired actors from a much whiter era to taint diversity figures and vote in nominations that have become magnets for criticism.
So why aren't we impressed?
Prior to the new additions, the academy's membership had been 75 percent male and 92 percent white. This new class will shift those numbers only a hair, to 73 percent male and 89 percent white.
If you're playing catch-up in a game that has you sorely behind, one in which you were raked over the coals for your lack of diversity, wouldn't you go above and beyond what's needed to catch up?
For example, if you need to change the balance of women in your organization, and you know that women compose about half the population, wouldn't your invitations go to more women than men? Even then they'd only make a dent in the overall numbers.
"This is a necessary but insufficient move," says Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. "The bigger question is having an academy that looks like America and is making decisions that reflects that demographic reality."
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Los Angeles is 73 percent nonwhite. The United States is about 38 percent nonwhite. Even doubling its people-of-color membership by 2020 would put the academy in a position of constantly playing catch up.
In fact, Hunt notes, the country will be even browner come 2020.
"You've made progress relative to your internal demographics, but you run the risk of running further behind relative to the nation itself," he says.
He also is critical of the membership class for showing little diversity outside the acting field. Other branches, such as producers and directors, are whiter and more male, he says: "Producers, directors are pretty abysmal."
And studios, Hunt points out, take their cues from the academy.
"It affects the projects studios want to be associated with," he says. "They want to be associated with academy-worthy products. What the academy celebrates reverberates across America."
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