Why are the #OscarsSoWhite?
For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated an all-white group of acting nominees.
In explaining how that came to be, many Hollywood observers have pointed to a 2012 Los Angeles Times investigation that found that 94% of the academy voters were white.
That report prompted soul-searching by the academy. One of the problems it faces is that members serve for life, making change slow despite the academy’s push to be more inclusive when new members are selected.
“We have increased the diversity with the inclusion of new members, and we are going to continue on this road. It’s very important to me,” academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said after she was first elected in 2013.
So how did it do?
The academy does not release demographic information or the full roster of members, but lists of each year’s invitees are available. We looked at the actors and directors who were invited in the last three years and counted how many were white and how many were people of color.
In 2013, the academy invited 276 new people to join the organization, which had 6,028 members at the time. Of the 37 actors and directors invited to join the voting ranks that year, nearly half (48.65%) were people of color. However, the combined incoming voter classes of both 2012 and 2013 only brought the overall percentage of white academy members down a single percentage point, to 93%.
In 2014, 271 people were invited to become academy members. Of 31 total actors and directors invited, just five were people of color -- only 16.31%.
It did slightly better in 2015: 322 people were asked to join, and of the 51 people in the acting and directing categories, 17 were people of color, or 33.33% of the total.
For your consideration
According to the academy website, new members must first be sponsored by two existing members. A member can only sponsor one person for membership per year.
Each “branch” of the academy has different criteria. For actors, being nominated for an Oscar automatically makes you eligible to become a member -- so when all the nominees are white, it further reinforces the overall whiteness of the academy.
On Monday, Isaacs released a statement expressing her frustration with the pace of change.
“I am both heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion,” the statement read. “As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership over the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like.”
In response to #OscarsSoWhite, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee put out public statements announcing they would not be attending this year’s Oscars.
Chris Rock, who is hosting this year’s awards ceremony, tweeted a brief promotional video where he joked that the top three reasons to watch the Oscars were “presenter cleavage,” “check out who died this year,” and “I might curse!”
Along with a video, he tweeted a possible new name for the show: “The White BET Awards.”
Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter @jessica_roy.