How did The King’s Speech win the Best Picture Oscar last year? How come The Dark Knight didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture? These are some of the huge questions lobbied at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in recent years. Now, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Academy is 94% caucasian and 77% male.
Last year, Sony Pictures said they think they lost Best Picture because older voters didn’t get the Internet. And how the hell is a comic book story going to appeal to voters who have a median age of 62. Yes, 62. Yes, you’re still reading about the Academy, not the AARP.
The Academy’s membership also explains some of this year’s worst decisions. No Drive? No Shame? A movie about a sex addict and a movie made for 20 – 30 year olds isn’t going to appeal to the Academy the way it’s made. Extremely Loud and Incredible Close? A movie that stars Tom Hanks about a dad and son’s relationship post 9/11 that was panned by critics? That’s something they can get behind. Oh, and don’t forget the love for The Artist and The Descendants, a silent film and a movie about a dad reconnecting with his kids and himself.
The Academy knows its not diverse, and they want to change. The problem is that Hollywood itself isn’t amazingly diverse. There are, however, two ways to change it’s membership ranks. First, they could invite more young members. Second, they invite minorities.
They’ve been adding younger members like Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Hudson make up some of the younger members asked to join the Academy. By the way, you join the Academy in one of three ways: land a nomination (to be considered), get recommendations from two of the Academy’s 15 branches (directing, acting, writing, etc) or get an endorsement from the branch’s membership committee. Still, members under 50 make up 14% of the Academy.
The other way is to add minorities, which they’ve made strides to do. Hudson, Jeffrey Wright and Mo’Nique are some of the newest members, but that’s not enough. There need to be more. Women too. A San Diego State University study of women in commercial filmmaking found that the Academy’s membership in their screenwriting ranks mirrors the reality of Hollywood – about 17%.
Now, I understand the problem the Academy faces here. They’ve got to balance getting too big, giving people who’ve worked hard a chance to be in the Academy while diversifying. It’s not easy, and it’s going to take some work from them, but it’s work they HAVE to do, like a root canal. And when you consider that the Academy hands out lifelong memberships it makes it even worse.
Yes, their ranks have members like Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. But they also include members who are out of the film industry like a nun, a book store owner, and a retired Peace Corps recruiter. Only 50% of Academy members have had their work on the silver screen in the past two years. The LA Times found out that hundreds of members haven’t worked on a movie in decades.
Moviegoers have changed. America is more diverse, theaters are filled with people of all creed and race, and you’re seeing an older, almost single-minded, Academy voting for movies that don’t mesh with the American public anymore. Of course, this will change in due time. At least the Academy knows and wants to change. For now, they can invite the following members, if they aren’t members already: Emma Stone, Nicolas Winding-Refn, Ryan Gosling, Owen Wilson, Alfonso Cuaron, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve McQueen, Michelle Williams, AR Rahman, Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Demian Bichir, Mila Kunis, Jessica Chastain and whoever else shows even an ounce of real talent.
If you’re watching the Oscars next Sunday and want to predict the winners – Just remember: What Would Old White Guys Do? [LA Times]