Film Forward

The Film Academy Invites The Largest And Most Diverse Class Ever — But Will It Actually Impact The Oscars?

It's a well-meaning and positive step toward change, but the conversation doesn't stop here.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is continuing to take steps to ensure that things such as the #OscarsSoWhite controversy never happen again. In the aim to diversify their membership, AMPAS has invited 774 people — the largest and most diverse class ever — to join its ranks.

Lots of famous faces have been invited to join this year, including lots of superheroes, such as Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot, and three of our favorite people named Chris: Captain America's Chris Evans, Thor's Chris Hemsworth, and Guardian of the Galaxy's Chris Pratt. (Don't worry, Chris Pine is already a member.) The 90-year-old organization's oldest invitee is 95-year-old Betty White, and the youngest is 19-year-old Elle Fanning.

Some of the diverse additions, in looking at the acting branch alone, includes the likes of Riz Ahmed, Debbie Allen, John Cho, Priyanka Chopra, Donald Glover, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Leslie Jones, Keegan-Michael Key, Zoë Kravitz, Rami Malek, Janelle Monáe, Phylicia Rashad, Maya Rudolph, and Wanda Sykes — just to name a few. You can see the full list here.

As for how these 774 additions — and the previous record-breaking 683 additions last year — change the makeup of the Academy, it does move the dial in terms of diversity, just not as much as you'd think. The L.A. Times reports that the percentage of women in the Academy went up from 25 percent in 2015 to 27 percent in 2016, and now will be 28 percent as of this year. When it comes to people of color, the percentages goes up from 8 percent in 2015 to 11 percent in 2016, and will raise to 13 percent now.

Variety points out that seven of the organization's branches invited more women than men, 30 percent of the new class is made up of people of color, 39 percent of the new folks joining are women, and 57 countries around the world are represented by the group of invitees. This big influx means the 6,687 members — as of January 2017 — who currently make up the Oscar voting pool will be jumping to a total of 7,461 members.

While all of this sounds good at first glance, The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg points out in an opinion piece that it might not be the best way to go about it. While it brings some positive press to the Academy and is a well-meaning act, Feinberg argues that "markedly lowering the bar for entry into the Academy dilutes the credibility of the organization and the prestige of its awards."

The problem here is that while there are many inductees that you know and love, many of them are more known for TV projects or movies that aren't exactly Oscar-caliber films. Feinberg isn't saying that these people are not talented and who knows what these people are capable of in their careers but, as of now, the résumés of the overall class aren't up to industry snuff. The awards columnist's diagnosis of the situation? "The bottom line is that the Academy cannot fix the industry's diversity problems any more than a tail can wag a dog," he writes. "This is not a problem that can be reverse-engineered."

Feinberg argues: "The Academy is the last stop on a film's long journey, should all go well, and if you want to know why the Academy is not nominating more women and people of color, then you need to focus on the earlier stops — the agents and managers, who could nurture the careers of more women and people of color; the studios, which could hire more of them; the distributors and foreign sales agents and marketing execs, who could further push back against assumptions that certain types of audiences will never attend movies featuring certain types of people."

It's a logical conclusion and one that doesn't make it seem as though fixing AMPAS will fix all of the film industry's problems in terms of diversity — because they certainly aren't the only ones to blame for Hollywood's poor representation of women and people of color. You must look at the entire process of creating movies and fix things along the way. You can't only fix it at the end of the road, you have to start trying from the beginning when things are still able to be altered.

Cover image via Jaguar PS / Shutterstock.com

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

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