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The Academy Awards are feeling some serious heat following the announcement of the nominations for this year’s awards. For the second consecutive year every acting nominee is white, while highly regarded movies made by and starring black actors, like Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation were nearly ignored. The Academy has already made statements saying they want to take steps in order to improve diversity among both award nominees and Academy membership. Now we’re starting to see what some of those steps might actually be.
The first, and most likely step, according to The New York Times, is a return to a list of 10 nominees for Best Picture. As the voting rules currently stand, a movie not only has to be one of the top vote getters, but it also must meet a minimum threshold of support among voters as a whole, which means that while up to 10 movies can be nominated, it doesn’t always happen. This year only eight films met the requirements to be nominated. There is a feeling that if two more movies could have been nominated that Straight Outta Compton and/or Creed may have been there.
There’s also some discussion of potentially increasing the number of nominees for the acting categories to eight or 10. This is seen as a less likely option, as the five nominee list has been the standard since the 1930’s and traditionalists would likely fight it.
The other potential options for changing the situation involve changes to the voting process itself. One possibility is a loss of voting privileges for members who don't vote regularly. Some have even urged the Academy to bar members from voting if they have not been actively involved in the industry for a period of time, possibly a decade or more. This last option is probably the least likely thing to take place, as it would be expected to be strongly opposed. Still, it would likely make the Academy as a whole more diverse. Demographics from 2012 show that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is 94% white, and 86% are over 50 years of age.
The Academy will be holding a meeting on Tuesday and will likely do something to address the diversity problem as they will want to be able to make public statements that things are improving prior to the February 28 awards show. Notable African-American actors Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith have already stated they will not be attending the show, as has Spike Lee, who received an honorary Oscar in November. Even Spotlight’s Mark Ruffalo, who is nominated this year, has expressed concerns about whether or not to attend. The Academy needs to do something if they want to stop the bleeding.
Is increasing the size of the field the solution, or should the Academy make changes to their membership in order to effect the change they’re looking for?