January 26, 2016; The Guardian
Last week, NPQ reported on the reprisal of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in outcry after twenty white actors were nominated for a second year in a row, excluding any actors of color from any acting category. We noted that the issue was likely not with the Academy Awards themselves; the Oscars are merely a reflection of the industry, which does not provide actors of color the same opportunities as their white peers. Perhaps recognizing the need to change in the midst of severe criticism, the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Friday that it would be doubling the number of female and minority voters in the Academy by 2020 to better reflect the audiences that are watching the work being nominated.
“Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade,” said the press release on the Academy’s website. “In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members.” The Academy clarified that the new changes would not be affecting veteran members of the Academy, upon calls that the organization was deliberately excluding older, white members.
The response was a mix of applause for taking a stand against the industry and accusations from some calling the Academy biased. Indeed, the criticism against the nominations has been receiving criticism of its own, with some saying the nominations should not be based on color, but stick to talent. Indeed, Latino actor Demián Bichir from Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has called on the industry to change the work it’s putting out.
“There cannot and will not be African-American or Mexican artists nominated in the different categories if this industry doesn’t make enough relevant, transcendental, meaningful movies with more African Americans and Mexicans in leading roles,” said Bichir. “Perhaps African-American directors should cast Mexicans or Hispanics for the leading roles in their films. Perhaps Mexican directors should cast African-American actors in the leading roles of their films.”
Of course, the lack of minority representation in film is not limited to Mexicans, Hispanics, or African Americans. Asian actors have woefully been underrepresented in the nomination pool for decades and have largely been left out of the discussion over the nomination controversy.
While narrative changes in the industry will take longer to take form, the more immediate changes to the Academy’s rules may encourage greater awareness of all kinds. With more perspectives, a wider diversity of voters is a welcome change.—Shafaq Hasan