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Academy Defends Diversity Purge: ‘We Are Not Excluding Older Members’

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has posted a new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section on its website in response to mounting criticism from longtime members over the organization’s recently announced diversity initiative, which many see as an overt effort to purge older Academy members of their voting rights.

On Friday, the Academy announced a dramatic overhaul of its organizational structure and voting rules in an effort to boost diversity both within the organization and at the Academy Awards. The new rules, developed by president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and members of the executive and membership committees,  removed members’ lifetime Oscar voting status in favor of ten-year terms in which a member must be “active” in the film industry to cast a vote for the awards show, unless he or she has received an Oscar nomination.

The changes also included the addition of three new seats on the Academy’s Board of Governors, to be filled by women and minorities, and an “ambitious, global” campaign to recruit more diverse members.

In the wake of the rule changes, many longtime members have lashed out at the Academy and at Boone Isaacs, saying the organization reacted too hastily to the media-fueled #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which saw exclusively white actors nominated in top categories for a second consecutive year. In open letters published in The Hollywood Reporter, some longtime members accused the Academy of pushing out older, white members in favor of more diverse “politically correct” voters.

On Monday, the Academy sought to address those concerns by posting a new FAQ section on its website.

“We’re not excluding older members,” reads the first answer. “Everyone will retain membership.”

The Academy also detailed how a member could be considered “active” in the film industry over three ten-year terms, ensuring lifetime voting rights, without necessarily working for 30 years.

Let’s say you were admitted to the Academy in 1980 and you worked on one film in 1989. That covers you for your first 10 years. Then you worked once in the ’90s, which covers you for your second 10-year term, and once again in 2001 for your third 10-year term. That’s only a 12-year period, but you have worked in the three 10-year terms of your membership, so you’d qualify as an active member with voting status.

Ten-year terms need not be completed consecutively, and members can appeal their voting status.

“We want to strengthen, uphold and maintain the credibility of the Oscars with these new criteria,” the Academy said in response to why it made the changes at all. “Voting for the Oscars is a privilege of membership, not a right.”

“We are not lowering any standards, we’re widening our net,” reads the last answer. “All of these are substantive changes that will open up our governance to a wider range of members and have a significant and positive impact on the Academy. The result will be a membership that is more inclusive of the motion picture community, governance that is more representative of our membership and a stronger Academy overall.”

Check out the complete FAQ section below:

Why is the Academy excluding older members from voting?
We’re not excluding older members. Everyone will retain membership.

But won’t older members lose their opportunity to vote for the Oscars?
These rules are not about age.  In fact, under the new rules many veteran Academy members will retain voting privileges.

I thought you had to work in the last ten years in order to vote.
Working in the last ten years is one way to ensure you have voting privileges. Another way is to have been nominated for an Oscar. And a third way is to show that since you were admitted as a member you’ve worked in motion pictures during three ten-year periods. This means that the longer your career, the more likely you’ll qualify for voting.

So we have to have worked for thirty years to keep the vote?
No. Let’s say you were admitted to the Academy in 1980 and you worked on one film in 1989. That covers you for your first ten years. Then you worked once in the ’90s, which covers you for your second ten-year term, and once again in 2001 for your third ten-year term. That’s only a twelve-year period, but you have worked in the three ten-year terms of your membership, so you’d qualify as an active member with voting status.

Do these ten-year terms have to be consecutive?
No, they do not.

How do you define “active in motion pictures?”
You must be employed in the same kinds of quality films that got you into the Academy in the first place. Your status will be assessed by your peers in your branch—the people who best understand the intricacies of the motion picture industry and your field. The intention is to be inclusive.

What about some of us—such as writers and producers—who work steadily but without screen credit?
Employment is employment, regardless of whether or not there is a screen credit. Additionally, members will have an opportunity to appeal their situation.

What if the work I’ve done is not in my branch?
If an editor becomes a director, or a director becomes a producer, or an actor sells a screenplay, that’s all employment in the movie industry, and it still qualifies.

What happens if I don’t qualify?
You move to emeritus status, which means you have all the benefits of membership except voting. You continue to receive screeners and you are still invited to Academy membership screenings and programs, but you no longer pay dues.

And what happens if I become active again after having been moved to emeritus status?
Upon review of your request, you can be reinstated as an active member with voting rights.

If I’m moved to emeritus status, does that mean I’ll no longer get screeners?
You are still eligible to receive screeners. The Academy does not distribute screeners. Production companies and studios do. We will ask our members who run these companies not to make an issue of it.  Rest assured, your status—whether active or emeritus—will not be shared with any other outside entity.

So why make these changes at all?
We want the Oscars to be voted on by people who are currently working in motion pictures, or who have been active for a long time. There are a number of Academy members, however, who had brief careers and left the business. We want to strengthen, uphold, and maintain the credibility of the Oscars with these new criteria.

Voting for the Oscars is a privilege of membership, not a right.

What about all the other changes you announced?
The other changes are aimed at increasing diversity in our membership and governance.

Under our bylaws, the board is required to continuously review our criteria for voting status and membership. This has happened in the past and this is one of those times.  Diversity has been an ongoing discussion for many years.

What about the changes on the board?
We’ve created three new governor seats, to be nominated by the president, and voted on by the board. These three seats will be filled by women and people of color, and the changes will take place in February.

What is the plan for new recruitment?
We will be actively recruiting new members.  We’re also adding non-governor seats to the six board committees that oversee all Academy activity. And we’re reforming the executive committees by which each branch conducts its business; these are the committees that decide whom to invite for membership.

We will maintain high standards and continue to admit only those with substantial achievements.  The concern has been that a lot of highly qualified potential members were falling outside our radar. Many thought they had to wait to be invited, and didn’t know they could apply for membership, through a sponsorship process.

But why lower standards to get new members?
We are not lowering any standards, we’re widening our net.

All of these are substantive changes that will open up our governance to a wider range of members and have a significant and positive impact on the Academy. The result will be a membership that is more inclusive of the motion picture community, governance that is more representative of our membership, and a stronger Academy overall.

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