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It's one thing to know deep down that the people who vote on the Oscars are old, white, and overwhelmingly male-- that's the demographics of most of the people who win Oscars, so why shouldn't it apply to the votership? But it really is another thing entirely to see the numbers laid out in front of you, to be smacked with statistics like this one: People younger than 50 make up just 14% of Academy membership. Or this one: 77% of Oscar voters are male. And 94% of them are white.

Somehow that's even worse than I ever imagined, and the picture only gets grimmer the deeper you go into this Los Angeles Times article, which analyzes the supposedly secret roster of Oscar voters to figure out exactly who these people are. The Academy membership is technically secret, but it's not that hard to piece it together, and the Times claims they've accounted for 89% of the voting members, including former Hollywood presences who are now a nun, a Peace Corps recruiter, and otherwise totally out of the industry. Even among the acting branch, the easiest group to see participating in the business, the stats are low: not even 50% of the actors have appeared onscreen in the last two years.

What this starts to mean, as you dig deeper into the article and see quotes from people who think it's no problem that the group is overwhelmingly white and male, is an explanation for so many Academy choices over the years. Of course a bunch of old, white industry people feel soothed by an "everyone's a little bit racist" screed like Crash. Of course they'd let a ceremony go by like last year's, where not a single presenter was a black man-- prompting Samuel L. Jackson himself to complain. It's not that a group of older white men is automatically going to be racist or exclude minorities, it's that they won't even think about it, as proven by the Academy's dismal track record for awarding prizes to, well, anyone other than white men. A look at the nominees for Best Director this year starts feeling pretty representative of the group as a whole.

To be fair to the Academy, their demographics are pretty similar to the industry's as a whole-- 19% of the Academy's screenwriting branch is female, for example, while 17% of employed screenwriters are. And occasionally they do seem to be trying to branch out and at least go younger, as evidenced by Academy members Beyonce and Seth Rogen. There's not an easy fix for this kind of problem of diversity, and in a lot of ways the solutions have to start at the bottom, with more directors, producers and actors of color making their impact on the industry first, and the Academy second. But it's at least worth knowing all this as you watch the Oscars on Sunday, slamming your head against the table because Shame didn't even get nominated and The Artist is winning everything. If you're not a white man over the age of 50, there's a good chance the Oscars don't represent your taste at all.