Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invites 322 to join in diversity effort
Actors David Oyelowo, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Stone and director Justin Lin were among an unusually large and demographically broad group invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this week.
The academy added 322 new members, its largest class ever, continuing an effort to diversify the primarily white, older, male group. The class of 2015 brings the academy membership to more than 7,000.
“This organization is very much committed to a normalization of our membership to represent both the industry and the country as a whole,” said academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs in an interview Friday. “For a little bit here we had a quota system, a limit of membership. We were thought we were missing out on talented folks that come from all different areas. We lifted that and we have seen an increase in gender, color, age, nationality, all goals we set for ourselves, to be more representative of our audience.”
The diversity push follows a period in which the academy has come under fire for the homogeneity of its taste, as well as its membership. In January, all 20 of the group’s nominees for the acting Oscar were white. The omission of any minority actors – most notably “Selma’s” Oyelowo -- inspired the Twitter trending hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and a call for an emergency meeting by activist Al Sharpton.
“Every year there are personally men and women who I’m surprised they didn’t get a nomination,” said Boone Isaacs, who was elected the academy’s first African-American president in 2013. “This year was no different. I thought this was going to be a much-discussed topic, as it has been.”
The academy does not release demographic information on its members, but a Times analysis of those asked to join this year found that more than 23% were people of color and more than 28% were women.
A 2012 Times study found that 94% of Oscar voters were white and 77% were male; academy members were found to have a median age of 62. When The Times updated the data in 2013, the academy was 93% white and 76% male.
“The academy sets the standard for what is considered art,” said Darnell Hunt, professor of sociology and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, in an interview Friday. “When you have an academy made up of white men, their sensibilities set the tone for what’s considered the highest achievement in film. I would bet my life that when the voting membership becomes more diverse, the winners will become more diverse.”
This year’s class is 51 more than in 2014, when the academy admitted 271 members to its ranks, and 176 more than in 2012.
Other new members include actors Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Kevin Hart (“The Wedding Ringer”) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle”), directors Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man Holiday”) and Lynn Shelton (“Laggies’) and producers Effie T. Brown (“Dear White People”) and Bruna Papandrea (“Wild”).
Historically the academy has invited roughly the same number of people to join as those who have died, retired or resigned -- a factor which has made the organization slower to change. But the group softened its membership quotas in 2013 as part of an overall diversity effort.
New members come from last year’s Oscar nominees, as well as those selected by individual branches such as editors and designers.
The academy is also limited in drawing from an industry that faces representation issues of its own. Less than 5% of major studio movies were directed by women last year, and the American Civil Liberties Union has asked three government agencies to investigate the industry’s hiring practices for evidence of discrimination.
The expanded membership comes at a crucial time for the academy financially – this week the Los Angeles City Council approved its plans to build a $300 million museum on the former May Co. department store site adjoining the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer on the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, with a planned opening in 2017.
“That was a major milestone for us,” Boone Isaacs said. “We are picking up steam. We have secured more than $250 million in cash and pledges. That also speaks very well of the project.”
Women and minorities are expected to take on bigger leadership roles at the academy as well, with many running for seats on the 51-member board of governors, including “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, an African-American woman. According to a ballot first published in the Hollywood Reporter, 27 of 67 board candidates are women and seven are minorities.
“All of the branches have really stepped up this whole initiative of inclusion, of recognizing talent, period,” Boone Isaacs said. “We’re seeing movement in many different areas and this is one of them.”
Staff writers Tre’vell Anderson, Oliver Gettell and Siddharth Vodnala contributed to this report.
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