Oscars' Film Academy wants major rule changes for diversity

Film Academy pledges to double membership of women and minorities, voting for rules to promote Oscar diversity

Photo by: AP (Archive )
Photo by: AP (Archive )

An Oscar statue.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, organisers of the Oscar awards, pledged on Friday to double its membership of women and minorities by 2020 through an ambitious affirmative action plan that includes stripping some older members of voting privileges.

The announcement came after a backlash over the absence of actors or filmmakers of color in this year's Oscars nominations, prompting actor Will Smith, director Spike Lee and a handful of others to say they plan to shun the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 28.

The membership rule changes, among the most sweeping in the academy's 88-year-old history, were unanimously adopted by the organisation's Board of Governors on Thursday night, the group said in a statement. But the reforms will not affect voting for this year's Academy Awards.

Under the new regulations, each new member's voting status will lapse after 10 years unless he or she has been active in motion pictures during that decade, and lifetime voting rights will be conferred after three 10-year terms or if the member has won or been nominated for an Oscar.

The same standards will apply retroactively to current members, meaning those who have been inactive in the film industry during the past 10 years would have to either be nominated for an Oscar or win one to qualify, the academy statement said.

Those losing eligibility to vote would be moved from active to "emeritus" status, absolving them of having to continue to pay dues while leaving their academy privileges intact, except for voting rights.

At the same time, the academy said it would augment the traditional process by which current members sponsor newcomers to the organisation by launching "an ambitious global campaign to identity and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity."

Moreover, the academy said it will add three new seats to its governing board reserved for women and minorities.

"The board's goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the academy by 2020," the statement said.

How many new female or minority members the academy would need to enlist to meet its goal, and how many older members stand to lose their voting privileges was not immediately clear.

The roster of the 6,000 or so academy members has never been publicly disclosed, though a 2012 Los Angeles Times study found that its members were nearly 94 percent white and 77 percent male.

The academy faces a protest over a lack of racial minorities among this year's nominees in its four acting categories for a second year in a row.

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is African-American and has come under increasing pressure from actors and filmmakers of colour, said in announcing the rule changes, "The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up."

She added, "These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition."