Read it here.
That’s today’s press release from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), wherein it was announced that “historic action” is being taken to increase diversity in Academy membership.
This announcement comes in the wake of the uproar over #OscarsSoWhite, a campaign that has been brewing since last year’s treatment of Selma and was invigorated once again by this year’s Oscar nomination slate, in which people of color were even more embarrassingly absent. To this point, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Will Smith, and Spike Lee have announced they won’t be attending this year’s Oscars ceremony, and others will likely follow. Even nominees like Brie Larson and Mark Ruffalo have spoken out against the seeming racial bias of AMPAS votership, and Ruffalo has said he’s pondering absence from the ceremony.
Ironic that the AMPAS announcement arrives on the very day that Charlotte Rampling’s nasty verbal diarrhea also leaked all over the media. The British actress, nominated for Best Actress this year for her unquestionably masterful performance in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, was interviewed by French radio station Europe 1 and asked to comment on the Academy’s diversity problem. She proceeded to dig herself a hole from which it seems impossible to dig out, stating that the anger over the omission of people of color is “racist to whites,” and “perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list.”
But her final rant led to the most revealing statement she could have ever made, which was phrased in the form of a question: “People will always say, ‘Him, he’s less handsome’; ‘Him, he’s too black’; ‘He is too white.’ Someone will always be saying ‘You are too’ [this or that]… But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?”
The final question implies that minorities – at least whatever Rampling’s definition of “lot of “ them are – should be sequestered in their own private area, and that no uproar over lack of diversity, be it within the Academy or in the industry at large, is so valid as to change that. I certainly hope the lady misspoke, because it certainly reads like she’s saying the worst possible outcome of all this activism is “lots of minorities everywhere.”
FYI – the interviewer then reminded Rampling that people of color within the film industry feel like a subjugated minority. Her response was “No comment,” but that actually says it all.
There’s more to be said about Rampling’s embarrassing display and the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in general. But for the moment I have digressed from the subject at hand, which is the Academy’s press release and promise to take action, spearheaded by Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is an African-American, and the AMPAS Board of Governors’ Membership & Administration Committee Chairman Phil Alden Robinson, who is not.
A couple key points from this announcement. First, “The Board’s goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.” It’s a statement with multiple caveats – the goal is to commit to. So…will female and “diverse member” representation actually double by 2020…or will the Board of Governors only commit to try by then?
Also this: “Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars.”
So the 10-year rule is solid…except the release explicitly states that there are plenty of ways around it. For example: Charlotte Rampling is an Academy voter. She is also now a nominee, meaning she is automatically granted lifetime voting privileges. So we can always count on her presence to decide for herself when “the black actors” don’t “deserve to make the final list.”
Also, what is the definition of “active in the film industry”? How “active” must one be within a decade in order to merit voting privileges versus emeritus status?
There are loopholes aplenty, and AMPAS should have its feet held to the fire on every last one of them. However, the #OscarsSoWhite movement was successful in moving the Academy to do something. That action has now been announced, but the ball is still in AMPAS’ court. They have to make this change a reality. If they wait too long, all of us should make them acutely aware.
Of course, if these changes work, they only work within the Academy. And if they work only within the Academy, that could act as an effective smokescreen that disguises the larger industry problem. Yes, there’s a clear diversity problem in the Academy, but there’s an opportunity problem in the industry. More opportunities need to be created for people of color. We need more films, more filmmakers, more screenplays, more roles to be filled by people of color. More cinematographers, art directors, makeup artists, animators, composers, sound editors, and sound mixers. If the opportunities are made available, great work will result.
And if not, this terrible cycle will continue.