The #OscarsSoWhite conversations brought a long underlying problem with the Academy back to the forefront.
No actors of color received nominations for The Oscars 2016. and there’s an extreme lack of representation among the members who make the nominations. This year, after a repeat offense on behalf of the Academy, artists like Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee among other celebrities made the decision to boycott this event.
While this is not the first time the Academy is used as a stage to address a social political issue, the fact that we still have to challenge inequality in film today is indicative that we have a long way to go.
The Oscars remain the pinnacle of film achievement, and it is not surprising that we want and should see change. Last month, the academy responded to criticisms of it’s lack of diversity.
We’re making changes. New Academy membership and voting diversity initiatives announced today. https://t.co/Arna4YvgY1
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) January 22, 2016
The official statement opens with the following statement: Lifetime voting rights reframed; new governor seats added and committees restructured. Goal to double number of diverse members by 2020.
The Academy is expected to diversify both in race and in gender. Vanity Fair recently released an article which covers how sexism is as relatable to the Oscars as the gold man statue. Nevertheless, internally, the Academy has made some changes which challenge these systemic issues we have in the film industry.
Currently, there are three women who are officers for the 2015-2016 board. Looking at its executive board today, one can find three women standing at the helm: Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Kathleen Kennedy and Dawn Hudson.
A look into their agenda, past and present, gives us a clearer picture on what to expect for the future of the Academy:
At the top we have president of the Academy Cheryl Boone Isaacs who also serves as the governor of the Public Relations Branch. Isaacs tackled the issue head-on in a recent interview with Ebony and the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA). Not only is she the first Black Academy President and third woman president of the Academy, but she is the first Academy president who is pushing for dynamic initiatives like member inclusion. What is even more encouraging about her initiatives is that they not only create a shift in the way the Academy tackles diversity, but also lead the way for change in the movie industry at large. Cheryl addresses the Academy’s critics directly and it is exciting to see what she has yet to accomplish.
As vice-president of the Academy we have Kathleen Kennedy who is also the governor of the Producers Branch. Kennedy herself is a source of inspiration for her growth within the film industry and recently solidifying her mark by producing Star Wars: The Force Awakens and as the President of Lucasfilms. She was handpicked by George Lucas to take over his multi-million baby and has been incremental in leading its revitalization. She is paving the way for other women to join the high ranks of the film industry with her ambition and accomplishments. In fact, in December 2015 NPR said that women now make up nearly half of her executive staff at Lucasfilm. Four of the six people in her development team are women. As Fortune magazine said, “she may well be the most powerful woman in Hollywood” and I am hopeful for this force to help shape the future of the Academy.
Last, but certainly not least we have CEO Dawn Hudson who spent 20 years at the helm of Film Independent. According to Variety, Hudson is working with Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs to diversify membership and broaden the white/over-60/male demographic of the 6,000 members. She has not been silent in the Academy’s intentions to revitalize its diversity and is unapologetic for their means of achieving it.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter she stated, “The Academy is tradition-bound, it is rule-bound, it is not trying to be politically correct, never has been. We are an elite institution. That elite institution is part of who we are, and that definition won’t change. We are the best of the best in the film industry. We don’t feel that we have looked far and wide enough for the best of the best.”
She is not shying away from the responding to these criticisms and seems to be using this same direct action plan with the Academy’s action plan for change.
The Oscars 88th year theme is We All Dream In Gold, and while many may argue that this is not true, what can be certain of is that it seems to be on its way to change. It is so important that Cheryl, Kathleen, and Dawn are in positions of creating change. We are hopeful for industry-wide inclusion so that soon we can truly say that we all dream in gold. You can learn more about the women who sit on specific branches, here.