Academy mulls changes to best picture category in wake of #OscarsSoWhite

Academy mulls changes to best picture category in wake of #OscarsSoWhite
Actor John Krasinski and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announce best actress Academy Award nominations Jan. 14 at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Ten months ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was talking about constricting its best picture category back to five nominees, the standard in place from 1944 to 2008.

Now, The Times has learned, the academy, at a scheduled Board of Governors meeting on Tuesday, will consider making the Oscars' best picture category a fixed slate of 10 nominees. This was the method used for two years in 2009 and 2010, before the academy moved to its current structure, which allows for a variable roster of five to 10 best picture nominees.

"It's a knee-jerk response to this year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy that, if enacted, won't necessarily solve anything other than the academy's current public relations disaster," says one academy member who, because of the sensitive nature of the issue, asked not to be identified.

Changing the best picture category -- and, perhaps, the way votes are counted to determine the nominated movies -- is one of a handful of proposals being floated as the academy considers ways to respond to the outcry over a second consecutive year of all-white slates of acting nominees.

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued a statement Monday night promising that the organization was making "big changes" and, indeed, some of the ideas on the table would radically alter the Academy Awards. Most notably, there is talk of, for the first time ever, expanding the acting categories from five to up to 10 nominees.

The best picture nominees are currently determined by a preferential balloting system. The 6,261 voting academy members are asked to list up to five movies and rank them in order of preference. To earn a nomination, a movie must be one of the top choices of at least 5% of the voters.

First-place votes (commonly referred to as "passion votes" by Oscar campaign consultants) matter greatly because this is where the dozen or so PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants initially look when tabulating the ballots.

Ballots sporting No. 1 votes for movies that receive insufficient support or movies that receive significantly more than they need are allocated to the second movie listed.

Many members believe that the system favors independent dramas like "Room" or "Brooklyn" at the expense of popular commercial fare like "Straight Outta Compton," the N.W.A biopic, that some pundits believe showed up as the No. 4 or 5 movie on a great many ballots but lacked the ardent support of voters who'd put it at No. 1.

When the academy adopted the preferential system, it believed it would reflect the wishes of the greatest number of voters. Now, it would seem, there's some feeling that it doesn't -- at least as reflected by this year's results.

Twitter: @glennwhipp