“When film director Rod Lurie ran into some fellow Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members last month at a deli in Studio City — Hollywood veterans who, like him, would help decide the Oscar nominees for “Best Picture” — talk turned to “Straight Outta Compton,” the highest-grossing movie from a black director in history.
Lurie thought it was one of the year’s best movies. But the other members — all white men, aged 70 and up — hadn’t voted for it; in fact, they hadn’t even seen it. Only one man had tried watching it, but stopped partway through, waving off the critically acclaimed rap biopic as “too loud.”
Those men selected American film’s highest honor alongside a group that looks almost exactly like themselves — the academy’s directors branch. Composed of Lurie and many of the nation’s most celebrated filmmakers, the group is 89 percent male and 84 percent white, and roughly half are 60 or older, a Washington Post analysis found.
“The truth is, those academy members will watch movies that deal with the heroism of the African-American community or the history of blacks, like ‘12 Years a Slave,’ because that interests them,” said Lurie, an Israeli-American director whose work includes “The Contender” and AMC’s “Hell on Wheels.” “What doesn’t interest them is the current black experience or black culture. A movie like ‘Straight Outta Compton’ doesn’t stand a chance.”
The anger that has again enveloped the Oscars, known through the social-media movement #OscarsSoWhite, has largely focused on the award show’s startling on-screen sameness of age, gender and race: All 20 Oscar acting nominations, for instance, have gone to white actors for two years in a row.
But academy members say the movie industry’s toughest, most important challenge starts not with the academy, but with Hollywood itself, in the director’s chairs and corner offices of a risk-averse business that rewards old relationships, thrives on replication — and often blocks diverse talent out.
The full roster of the roughly 6,200 members in the academy’s 17 branches — for writers, casting directors, visual-effects artists and other specialties — is a guarded secret, and the academy has shared no data on the diversity of its membership, even as it calls for sweeping reforms.
But by crunching data on academy notices, crowd-sourced databases, private archives and other sources, The Post analyzed the two branches that wield the strongest influence on the nation’s cinema: the directors, whose members preside over America’s most prominent film stories, casts and crews; and the executives, whose studio chiefs, executive producers, investors and movie moguls make the financial decisions that keep Hollywood alive.
The data reveals a staggering lack of diversity among Hollywood’s top ranks: About 96 percent of the more than 450 members in the executives branch are white and 87 percent are men, The Post found. The average member is retirement age, just over 65.
While people of color compose 37 percent of the United States and bought 46 percent of the movie tickets sold here in 2014, they are a small fraction of America’s most rewarded directors: Of the branch’s roughly 400 members, 6 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are black and 4 percent are Asian, The Post found.
Few if any of these white, male academy members will walk onstage at the glitzy Feb. 28 awards show in Los Angeles. But they wield unmistakable power behind the scenes, by deciding which projects get funded, which actors get cast — and which stories get ignored.
If the American film industry truly hopes to be more inclusive, members said, this is where it’d need to start: By encouraging movie and business leaders to film or fund a more diverse range of stars, storytellers and ideas. But the branches’ overwhelming homogeneity shows how slow the industry has been to evolve — and how much work still needs to be done…”