Academy President Pledges ‘Big Changes’ to Fix White Oscars Problem

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said Monday she was “heartbroken” after the organization behind the Academy Awards nominated exclusively white actors in top acting acting categories for a second straight year, and vowed “big changes” were in store to combat what some critics call a major diversity problem at Hollywood’s biggest night.

“I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees,” Boone Isaacs said in a lengthy prepared statement.

While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.  In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.”

As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like.  We need to do more, and better and more quickly.

This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ’60s and ’70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognize the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.

The Academy’s statement came in the wake of a renewed #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which saw critics accuse the Academy of failing to recognize minority actors’ performances for a second straight year. Critics argued that films like Creed, Concussion, Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation deserved recognition for their actors’ performances, though Compton picked up a Best Original Screenplay nomination.

Filmmaker Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith pledged to boycott the Oscars earlier Monday. Compton executive producer Will Packer called the lack of diversity among the nominees a “complete embarrassment,” while the Rev. Al Sharpton blasted Hollywood at large for perpetuating a “fraudulent image of progressive and liberal politics and policies.”

Chris Rock, who is set to host the February 28 show, jokingly referred to it as the “white BET Awards” in a recent promo.

The Academy faced similar backlash over all-white acting nominees last year. In an effort to promote diversity, the Academy invited 366 new members to join — the largest class in the organization’s history — including Packer and Compton director F. Gary Gray.

At the Governors Awards in November — where Spike Lee picked up an honorary Oscar — Boone Isaacs announced a new Academy diversity initiative entitled A2020. The five-year-program will see the organization “hire, mentor, encourage and promote talent in all areas” of the film industry.

While the Academy has faced continued criticism in the wake of the controversy, Boyz ‘N The Hood director John Singleton defended the organization Monday, saying that Oscar nominations were not a reflection of the quality of any given film.

“Every year there’s at least a few films that don’t get nominated and you have all these films that do get nominated and then the films that aren’t nominated are elevated over time,” Singleton told Variety. “Do the Right Thing never got nominated for best picture, but that year, nobody’s talking about Driving Miss Daisy any more. Everybody’s still talking about Do the Right Thing. It happens every year.”


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