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What was supposed to be the highlight of the Hollywood awards season has now turned into a firestorm of controversy, as the 88th Academy Awards have inadvertently opened a dialogue about diversity in the entertainment industry. Now, as an unforeseen result of the recently announced changes to the membership criteria for Oscar voters -- which would take the vote away from members who have been inactive for a 10-year period or longer -- one of their numbers has stepped forward and claimed that this supposed solution has created another form of discrimination.
Slaughterhouse Five screenwriter, and member of the Academy's writers branch, Stephen Geller, has written an open letter to Academy president Cheryl Boone Issacs. This letter's contents were printed, in their entirety, by The Hollywood Reporter, and they address Geller's major problem with the new changes the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences have proposed. Changes that, in Geller's opinion, "grey-list" older members who may not have the work or nominations under their belt to ensure their continued status as Oscar voters. In part, she said:
There is no reason whatsoever to penalize the Academy member for the state of the industry, or for nominations for an award by the separate Academy branches. It is bizarre to assume that, by its voting, each Academy member represents the decisions of studios, networks and talent agencies to produce films. Academy members vote on the results of decisions by others and make no decision about which films should be made, and therefore the membership should not be penalized for someone else's film choice.
Stephen Geller's criticisms, while leveled in such a way that they sound a little more combative than some may like, do have valid points. With the new qualifiers that require a certain level of activity in order to retain one's Oscar voting status, unless said voter wins or is nominated for an award, it's the older voters that now seem disenfranchised. Which means that instead of looking like a remedy to the alleged diversity problem in the Academy's voting pool, it now looks as if the bias has shifted balance from one demographic to another.
There's no denying that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences could use a more diverse group of voters, but rearranging the deck like this isn't the only way to solve that problem. At least, it isn't if you're in Stephen Geller's camp. Those who aren't really convinced by Geller's argument are more than likely of the school of thought that feel in order for the Oscars to continually pick the best of contemporary cinema, the voting pool should be as fresh as the candidates on display. While this does seem to make sense, for the most part, it does bring the matter back around to the supposed ageism that the Academy is perpetrating.
On either side of the argument, the clear truth is as follows: the voting body of the Oscars needs to become more diversified. However, it should be doing so not at the expense of the older portion of the Academy's voters, according to Academy members like Stephen Geller. We're still a far way from the supposed "solution" to the diversity problem the Oscars have allegedly suffered, and while such forward movement inspires actual change, it looks like at least another round at the drawing board will be required.
The 88th Academy Awards air on Sunday, February 28th, at 8 PM EST on ABC.