Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the Academy are in a difficult position. They are progressing but their membership profile isn’t. While the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild have shown more diversity in their ranks and in their choices — at least this year with Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton recognized by both — the Academy seems resistant to open their arms to filmmakers of color unless forced. Now that Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith have decided to boycott, as have many other viewers out there who are angry with how things have gone down for two straight years in a row, the Academy has issued a statement and promises to diversify their membership. It’s a good gesture, but its effect won’t be felt for year.
So here is one immediate step they can take to instantly improve things: they can return the number of Best Picture nominees to a solid ten titles instead of the variable 5-9 nominee slate the current system allows. I can promise them that if they do this, there will be room to honor films by women, about women, by people of color, about people of color. I do not understand their resistance. If some of the Academy members whine about it — that’s too bad for them. Whatever the forces holding the Academy back from making this change, I would urge Ms. Isaacs to fight them on it.
Here is her statement:
STATEMENT FROM ACADEMY PRESIDENT CHERYL BOONE ISAACS
I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees. While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.
As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly.
This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognize the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.
Too many of us awards writers dumb down our coverage because we know Oscar voters won’t go for something or someone, but advocacy can work miracles too — whether tall our hopefuls end up getting Oscar nominations or not. Where diversity is concerned, the less attention we pay to “what they will do,” the better off all of us will be.