Oscars voters get more diverse, and here’s why that matters
What do Donald Glover, Chris Evans, Gal Gadot, Kristen Stewart, Jon Hamm, Wanda Sykes, The Rock, and Betty White have in common?
Aside from absolutely nothing, they and 766 of their colleagues have just been invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Announced Wednesday on the AMPAS website, the annual list of new film-industry recruits shows that the organization’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is continuing her drive to broaden the diversity of the people who get to vote on the Oscars. Following the bleak movie year of 2015 and a hashtag backlash against a lily-white slate of nominees, Isaacs promised to push for change in the voting membership.
In 2016, AMPAS invited 683 new members into the Academy, by far the largest freshman class in the organization’s history. Nearly half the new inductees were women (46 percent), and 41 percent were people of color. Until then, women represented 25 percent of AMPAS and people of color just 8 percent.
This year, even more movie-industry personnel have been invited, with an even broader demographic mix and international flavor than before. Thirty percent of the new class is made up of people of color and 39 percent are women, bringing the total percentages to 13 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Seven craft branches invited more women than men, including such traditional boys’ clubs as the editing and executive groups.
The range of ages for invitees is from 19 (Elle Fanning) to 95 (Betty White). New members represent 57 countries, a smart move for an industry that is more than ever reliant on global audiences and global creators. That includes actors like Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, Indian actor Irrfan Khan (“Life of Pi,” “The Lunchbox”), and Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing, directors like Germany’s Fatih Akin (“The Edge of Heaven”) and Hong Kong’s Ann Hui (“A Simple Life”).
Jordan Peele is in — as a director, for “Get Out.” So is his TV comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key, as an actor. Barry Jenkins and Naomie Harris, director and costar of last year’s best picture “Moonlight,” are in. (Best supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali was inducted in 2016.) Amy Poehler’s in. Brawny superhero types like Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”), Chris Pratt (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), and Chris Evans (“Captain America”) are in. Viggo Mortensen, Rami Malek, Ruth Negga, Elizabeth Olsen, Margot Robbie, Maya Rudolph, Phylicia Rashad — all in.
Is the point to get everyone working in the film industry under one big tent? No, the point — the ultimate aim of Isaacs and the board of governors — seems to be that everyone who has achieved a certain level of success gets to be in the club irrespective of race, gender, age, or country of origin. That way, the films and people nominated for and winning Oscars (which are only the public face of an industry organization, albeit an organization created to represent that industry to the public) may better represent the vast variety of talent out there making movies. And nominations and awards for such people and movies can only increase the chances of more such people being hired and more such movies being made.
Case in point, maybe: The unexpected and welcome best-picture win for the small, handmade “Moonlight” this year, when most onlookers expected “La La Land,” a love letter to Hollywood, musicals, and attractive white leads, to take the prize. Yes, it was a mistake that presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong card to read, but maybe the moment served as a metaphor for an earnest, hidebound institution successfully trying to better itself.
Who knows? Maybe it doesn’t take that long to turn a battleship around.