“After #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy Struggles With Diversity, Age and “Relevance”

“The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is currently reviewing the work history of its roughly 7,000 voting members. On April 25, it asked members in two of its 17 branches to provide their résumés, and by the end of July each of its branches’ executive committees will notify their members whether or not they are eligible to vote for the 89th Oscars, which will take place next Feb. 26.

The Academy’s decision to reassess its voting rolls, which grew out of its immediate response to the controversy that greeted the absence of non-white acting nominees for the 87th and 88th Oscars, has resulted in one of the most contentious and bitter episodes in the Academy’s long history. It was originally proposed in January as part of a series of initiatives designed to ensure increased diversity among both the Academy’s membership and the kinds of work the Academy honors. But it has threatened to overshadow that effort, as many older Academy members vehemently complained that they were being implicitly accused of racism and subjected to a different kind of ‘ism’ — ageism.

Since then, the Academy, attempting to quell that firestorm, has adopted more generous rules to determine voting eligibility, and it has attempted to disentangle the question of voting eligibility from its diversity push. When the Academy first announced a review of its voting rolls on Jan. 22, it introduced it as part of what it called “historic action to increase diversity,” but on April 18 the Academy’s board of governors offered the membership a new explanation of how voting rights would be determined and said the move “is actually not about diversity. We have other proposals to advance the growth of diversity. This initiative, required by our bylaws, has to do with relevance.”

As first proposed, the voting review promised the most dramatic makeover of the Academy’s rank and file since 1970, when Gregory Peck, then serving as Academy president, purged the organization of many “inactive” members in an effort to make the Academy more “relevant” amid a rapidly changing culture…”




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