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LA Times Trumpets a Scoop: The Academy Is Old White Men!

Two dozen Times staffers add some statistics to what we, and the Academy, already knew: it isn't diverse enough

If I've been slow to weigh in on the Los Angeles Times' extensive, lengthy investigation that concluded that the Academy is old, white and male, it's because I haven't really been sure what to say.

Except, maybe, "Yeah, we know. And?"

The study, for which the Times said it identified more than 5,100 of the Academy's 5,765 members, concluded that AMPAS is "markedly less diverse than the public," which is obvious not just to anybody who’s ever been around the Academy, but to anybody who's ever been around any group of people in the entertainment industry.

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It put figures to go with the widely-held perceptions of the Academy – they're 94 percent white, 77 percent male and 54 percent over 60 – and included a sidebar designed to raise eyebrows over the fact that Meat Loaf and Erik Estrada are Academy members, while Woody Allen and George Lucas are not.

AMPAS Board of GovernorsOf course, Allen and Lucas aren't members through no fault of the Academy's; they have both been invited, and have declined. (Which is probably good for the Academy, since both are, to put it indelicately, old white men.)

(2009 photo of the AMPAS Board of Governors by Todd Wawrychuk/AMPAS.)

The Times credited 20 different writers and four researchers and analysts for the survey, which was interesting for some of its figures but annoying for the breathless air of revelation that surrounded adding a few details to what was already pretty much common knowledge.

And what I found intriguing was this: "Women make up 19 percent of the Academy's screenwriting branch, and a 2011 analysis by the Writers Guild of America, West found that women accounted for 17 percent of film writers."

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And this: "The Academy's producers branch is about 18 percent female, and the directors branch is nine percent female, figures close to those in a study by San Diego State University's Martha Lauzen … [who] found that women accounted for 25 percent of all the producers and five percent of all the directors" of the 250 top-grossing films of 2011.

In other words, the Academy, which is supposed to represent the best of the movie industry, is an accurate reflection of that industry in many ways.

Certainly, it's older and whiter and more male than it ought to be. And maybe its Oscar choices would get more adventurous if it changed. (On the other hand, "The Departed," "No Country for Old Men," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Hurt Locker" were hardly a timid group of Best Picture winners, especially coming from a group of old fogeys.) 

As Richard Rushfield pointed out on his Rushfield Babylon blog, "Yes, the Academy membership is clearly white, male and incredibly rich. So, if you haven’t noticed are the upper echelons of Hollywood at large … Yes, the Academy should open itself up a bit, but isn’t that really the tail wagging the dog?   You are complaining about the lack of diversity in the organization representing the elite of Hollywood but not the lack of diversity in Hollywood’s elite itself?"

Change in the Academy has been incremental, not dramatic; this is an organization that can have trouble dealing with new ideas.

(Wasn't it the L.A. Times that provided a forum for anonymous Academy members and/or staffers who criticized CEO Dawn Hudson for trying to make the Academy more diverse by participating in the selection process? Yes it was, all of two months ago.)

In the end, the facts are simple. The Academy is old, and white, and male. It would like to change, but it's going to take a while.

And you don't need to unmask anybody to realize that.