Actor Stephen Furst, who is best known for playing the role of Flounder in 1978’s Animal House, has accused the Academy of “ageism and sexism” in choosing to “scapegoat” its older white male members “in order to deflect the criticism about the lack of diversity” in this year’s all white acting nominees.
In an open letter published in Variety on Tuesday, Furst addressed Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Oscars Managing Director Lorenza Muñoz, and the Board of Governors, and condemned plans by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to purge older Academy members of their voting privileges in order to make way for members, who according to the Academy, “represent greater diversity.”
After the renewed #OscarsSoWhite controversy saw a number of stars pledge to boycott the 88th Academy Awards over the lack of diversity among acting nominees, the Academy announced a series of measures to update its voting rules and organizational structure, with plans to double the amount of minority and women members by 2020.
The Academy also announced many older members will no longer receive lifetime voting rights, and new ten-year voting terms will only be renewed if members are “active” in motion pictures within a decade.
Alleging discrimination on the Academy’s part, Furst lamented the rule changes :
In less than a week after (according to Associated Press) “a handful of actors” decided that they were going to boycott The Oscars, the Academy Board of Governors has concluded that I am racist, not to mention, irrelevant. In fact, I am very far from either. Whether I am an active member of the Academy is secondary to me at this point, considering the insulting and unfounded generalities the Academy has made about the character and judgment of older Academy members.
Like many other members I know, I was saddened, as well as offended, to learn the Academy Board of Governors has chosen to scapegoat the older members of the Academy in order to deflect the criticism about the lack of diversity this year in the nominees for Academy Awards… I know that there has been much public conversation about why the nominees this year do not include any minorities, with the focus being on the membership having so many old, white, male members. The Academy has therefore bowed to this explanation, in a most disturbing manner, although there is no evidence that old, white, male Academy members are racist, do not appreciate the art of minorities, or refuse to vote for minorities’ work.
Furthermore, Furst argued that the Academy “can’t fight issues with diversity by engaging in ageism and sexism.”
“Apparently, the Board of Governors believes kicking aside the older voters is some sort of a solution to a lack of diversity in the industry. But of course it isn’t,” he wrote.
The actor and producer also said he feared he and other white male members would be deemed “irrelevant” moving forward, and argued that films are nominated based only off merit.
“I seriously doubt that ANY member of the Academy refuses to nominate someone because of their race, ethnicity or gender,” Furst said. He added:
…this isn’t Alabama in the 1960s. White members don’t only vote for white nominees, and I trust minority members will not favor only minority ones. Minority films and actors are regularly nominated, but not every year. Even Meryl Streep doesn’t get nominated every year.
…I know many extraordinary, devoted and intelligent members who will no longer be able vote under your new rule. Dismissing their accomplishments as being too long ago to matter is a mistake. The new rules may well result in a revolving door of membership, but it will not help the promotion of excellence in film.
“The Academy should indeed diversify its membership — it should have done it years ago, but must you demean your older members in the process?”
The actor also suggested a better method for that the Academy to verify that members are actually viewing the films up for consideration before voting on them. He proposes that the Academy move toward online streaming of the films, instead of sending out screener copies. “Doing away with screeners and streaming the films with a password that allows the Academy to keep a tally on how many films a member actually watched would be a much better way to promote fairness in the nomination process,” Furst wrote.
Read the rest of Furst’s open letter here.