The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences held their elections this week, and Ava DuVernay has been elected to the Directors’ Branch, joining Steven Spielberg and Susanne Bier as one of the three “governors” representing directors in AMPAS. This year’s elections make the board of governors the most diverse it has ever been, with 26 women and 12 people of color among the 54 governors. The new board is meeting virtually today to discuss another round of changes to the 2021 Oscar telecast as fallout from the pandemic continues. It will be interesting to see how this new board responds to the ongoing, industry-wide complications resulting from the pandemic.
DuVernay has been an industry leader for years, advancing the visibility and cause of women, women of color, and people of color in the film industry. Despite a concerted effort to diversity membership in the Academy, AMPAS has been slow to respond to rapid social change over the last decade, but hopefully, with politically engaged and active people like DuVernay on the board, the leadership can become nimbler and more flexible. But there is another area where DuVernay can move the needle of AMPAS—the inclusion of streaming films in Oscar eligibility.
Because of the pandemic, the 2020 Oscars will allow for first-run streaming movies to be considered for Oscars without a theatrical run. They swear up and down they will roll back this exemption after 2020 eligibility ends, and maybe in the short term they will, but in the long run, I don’t think they’ll be able to put the genie back in the bottle. And with someone like DuVernay on the board, helping shape the future direction of AMPAS, it seems even less likely. She once called theatrical distribution “privilege-preferred presentation” and has been vocal about the opportunities offered to BIPOC and female filmmakers at streaming platforms versus traditional distribution. Not that streaming platforms are a utopia, but they’re so hungry for content they will give opportunities traditional studios are slower to give. Also, as DuVernay points out, people are WATCHING those movies and shows, and the access can be greater, especially for audiences in communities with no movie theater (which is probably going to become more widespread as many theaters won’t survive the current shutdown). It will be interesting to see what impact DuVernay has on the Academy, especially as they try to respond to this unprecedented crisis.