After #OscarsSoWhite Furor, The Academy Makes Dramatic Changes To Increase Diversity

"The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up."

Celebrate diversity in film in front of and behind the camera with more Film Forward stories:
Celebrate diversity in film in front of and behind the camera with more Film Forward stories: aplus.com

The hype surrounding the Oscar season each year is a welcome distraction to the cold — at least for those affected by it — but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has had a controversial start to 2016. For the second year in a row, exactly zero people of color were nominated in the four major acting categories, and neither were Black directors from critically acclaimed films from the past year (Straight Outta Compton and Creed). After the nominations were released to unrelenting criticism that gave rise to #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy has pledged to increase membership diversity, committing itself to doubling the number of women and minority members by 2020. 

In a press release on Friday, the Academy board announced "substantive changes" to its voting requirements, recruiting measures, and governing structure. "The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up," President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in the release. 

Some sort of change within the Academy's membership was widely expected. Many have said that the all-White actor nominations were not due to the lack of minority representation or talent in the acting industry, rather, it reflected academy's membership makeup, which a 2012 Los Angeles Times  investigation found to be 94 percent White.

The backlash to the nominations' lack of diversity was swift and resounding. Heavyweights such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee announced that they were boycotting the Oscars, and calls for Chris Rock to step down as Oscars host came from the likes of Tyrese Gibson and 50 Cent. 

There is something to be said about the Academy's quick response to the backlash, even though some members and nominees themselves remain adamant that this year's all-White acting nominees were not at all reflective of the Academy's membership demographic. But the argument that non-White actors simply have to do better is quite a shaky one. In fact, the motion picture business does not have to look far for evidence of booming success through diversity — the TV industry has been showing it up spectacularly.

Cover image via Jason Merritt / Getty Images