The Oscars has launched a landmark campaign to diversify the ranks of Academy Award voters who decide which actors, movies and filmmakers earn recognition, but Hollywood’s highest honors might remain a predominantly Caucasian affair for some time to come.
Amid an outcry against a field of Oscar-nominated performers lacking a single black person for a second consecutive year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a sweeping affirmative action program on Friday, pledging to double female and minority membership by 2020.
However, host Chris Rock would not step away from the high-profile job, the show’s producer Reginald Hudlin said on Saturday, telling Entertainment Tonight at an NAACP Image Awards lunch the comedian has scrapped his material.
“As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, ‘I’m throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show,’” Hudlin told Entertainment Tonight.
“You should expect (#OscarsSoWhite jokes),” Hudlin said, adding “yes, the Academy is ready for him to do that.”
The largely white, male and older makeup of the more than 6,000 film industry professionals who belong to the academy has long been cited as a barrier to racial and gender equality at the Academy Awards.
“It’s unprecedented for the academy to make this kind of drastic overhaul,” awards-tracking Web site Gold Derby editor Tom O’Neil said. “It’s a very dramatic announcement and a very welcome breakthrough.”
The changes, unanimously approved on Thursday night by the academy’s governing board, include a program to “identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity,” and to strip some older members of voting privileges.
Under the new rules, lifetime voting rights would be conferred only on those academy members who remain active in the film industry over the course of three 10-year terms or who have won or been nominated for an Oscar.
Actor Will Smith, director Spike Lee and a handful of others vowed to skip the Feb. 28 awards.
They gave no indication that they plan to call off their Oscar boycott.
Warner Bros, a major Hollywood studio, issued a statement within hours embracing the Oscar announcement and Warner Bros chairman Kevin Tsujihara said: “There is more we must and will do.”
None of the measures would affect voting for this year’s Academy Awards — a contest whose dearth of racial diversity led to the revival of the trending Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite that emerged last year.
African-American activist April Reign — who started the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag one year ago — welcomed the changes but was still calling on viewers to boycott the Oscars.
“The academy can only nominate films that are made, and so the onus has to be put on Hollywood studio heads to make more films that represent the beauty and diversity and the nuance of all of America,” Reign said in a telephone interview.
Longer-term change faces a deeply entrenched white, male-dominated system of studios, talent agencies and production companies that have been slow to welcome minorities in lead acting roles or as directors and screenwriters. Women have long faced similar impediments.
“The Oscar awards are the cosmetics of the industry. The infrastructure is the problem,” National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts chairman Felix Sanchez said.
On Saturday, Oscar-winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu at a panel of producers nominated for awards by the Producers Guild of America called the new academy rules “a great step” toward more diversity.
The Mexican filmmaker, director of last year’s Oscar for best feature film winner Birdman and this year’s nominee The Revenant, and others on the panel agreed producers need to do more at the start of a film’s development — in casting for example — to achieve more cultural balance in film.
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