Oscar: The New Class
Yesterday the list of the 2016 class of invitees to join the Academy was released, and it shows follow-through on their promise, after back-to-back years of #OscarsSoWhite controversy, to double membership diversity by 2020. This year they invited an unprecedented 683 members—about ten percent of the pre-existing membership. Recent nominees and winners are in, of course, as they are pretty much automatic invites. But this year also includes a noticeable surge in representation as 46% of the new class is female and 41% people of color.
Invitees include filmmakers Ryan Coogler and Marielle Heller—both invited as writers and directors, but they’ll have to pick a branch for membership—Taika Waititi, and Lana and Lilly Wachowski. Sam Taylor-Johnson got an invite, so Lainey should be appeased, and Melvin Van Peebles, a groundbreaking filmmaker who was at the vanguard of black cinema in the 1970s, got an invitation—I cannot BELIEVE he wasn’t already a member. If they’re teaching your work in film school, you ought to be in the Academy. That should just be a rule.
The actors’ list includes Idris Elba, John Boyega, America Ferrera, Nia Long, Adam Beach, Daniel Dae Kim, Freida Pinto, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Emma Watson, and, anticipating what would very likely have been an automatic nominee/winner invite next year, Nate Parker. Also, ICE CUBE could be an Academy member. I repeat: ICE CUBE in the Academy.
There is some side-eyeing of inclusions such as Anthony Anderson and Regina King—talented actors both, unquestionably, but at this time better known for work on TV. And Dakota Johnson—yet not Kristen Stewart?—is on the rise but not especially accomplished yet. But then, there are branches of the Academy absolutely rotten with cronyism. If some dude’s golfing buddy can get in, then so can Anthony Anderson. To claim these inclusions are tainting the pool or somehow diluting the importance of the Academy is to ignore the ridiculous, rampant favoritism that has rendered certain branches laughable at best. The Academy has several membership problems, and an earnest effort at inclusivity isn’t one of them.
But what happens now? The Academy is making good on their promises, but even with this unprecedented swelling of the ranks, the overall numbers only tick up a bit. Female membership goes from 25% to 27%, and minority membership rises from 8% to 11%. Is that going to be enough to move the needle on voting next year? What happens if we get another #OscarsSoWhite?
It’s important that the Academy be inclusive and better reflect the diversity of the real world. More voices, more empowerment, more opportunity—that should be the goal. But the problem was never about just the Academy—the problem is the industry as a whole. Even those complaints about the “worthiness” of certain members is more about a lack of opportunity than actually questioning talent or ability. Anthony Anderson and Regina King are working on television because that’s where they found opportunities.
As long as opportunities in film are limited for women and people of color, there will continue to be these kinds of problems. The Academy ought to be making this sort of decisive move toward inclusiveness because, frankly, EVERYONE should be doing it. It’s not enough to let diverse voices vote on the year’s best films. They should be making those films, too.
Attached - Ice Cube arriving in Montreal earlier this week.&