From how the rules will be enforced to whether there’s evidence to support disenfranchising Academy voters, big questions remain
Were Academy old-timers unfairly targeted by new rules designed to increase Oscars diversity? Will those rules spill over into the movie industry? How many people will lose the right to vote for the Academy Awards?
Those are some of the questions still swirling around the new rules passed in a hastily-called Board of Governors meeting on Thursday night and announced on Friday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The Academy and its swiftly-enacted new rules have been applauded by many in the industry following the second consecutive year without an acting nominee of color. But while AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs was celebrated at the Producers Guild Awards on Saturday — “no one is working harder to make the world a fairer and better place,” said PGA co-chair Michael De Luca — she’s also been questioned by members who fear that longtime Oscars voters will become disenfranchised.
The Academy moved to answer some questions in a FAQ posted on the AMPAS website on Monday. But other questions remain — some rhetorical, some not.
How does the Academy know that inactive members are responsible for the lack of nominee diversity?
The biggest move made by the Board of Governors was to change voting from a lifetime privilege to one renewable every 10 years, based on continued work in film — the assumption being that voters who are no longer active in the industry are to blame for Oscars homogeneity.
Maybe that’s true; many of us who follow the Academy closely have spoken to longtime members who seem reluctant to embrace films we think are fresh and challenging and exciting. But we’ve talked to younger members like that, too, and with retired members who still have adventurous tastes.
So how do they know who’s responsible for timid choices? Even when the Academy asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to reveal information about Oscars voting after the documentary “Hoop Dreams” was left out of the nominations in 1995, the accounting firm stripped out members’ names before turning the info over to AMPAS. Is there enough anecdotal evidence to reassure the governors that cutting inactive members will change the tenor of the nominations?
You could argue that even a big influx of new members — say, more than 500 per year for the next four years, which would be necessary to meet the Academy’s goal to double its minority enrollment by 2020 — won’t alter the makeup of AMPAS fast enough, unless they cut down the number of current members. But is this plan based on evidence, or is it scapegoating?
How many people will lose voting privileges?
There are almost 6,300 voting members in the Academy, and surveys show that the likely average age is in the 60s. Many are retired, and some haven’t worked in over a decade.
But the Board of Governors built in two escape hatches that retroactively grant lifetime voting privileges to any member who’s been nominated for an Oscar, and any who remained active long enough to have had his or her membership renewed twice under the new rules.
The members who are most at risk are the ones who were voted into the Academy late in their careers, and then stopped working shortly after joining the organization. But there’s no telling how many members fall into that category until the individual branches begin reviewing members after the Oscars.
And by the way, it appears that we’ll never really know the answer to this question, even after the Academy finds out. The FAQ posted on Monday assured members, “your status — whether active or emeritus — will not be shared by any outside entity.”
Who determines what “active” means, and what criteria will they use?
The new guidelines say that status will be determined “by your peers in your branch” without any other details. How big will the review committees be? Will they be open to all members who want to volunteer, or chosen by branch governors or Academy officials? Will committee members’ names be made public? And when the FAQ says, “members will have the opportunity to appeal,” who will hear those appeals?
An Academy spokesperson told TheWrap that the process will be determined on a branch-by-branch basis, with details yet to be determined.
Will AMPAS release the full member list, so we can measure its progress instead of taking its word for it?
Every year for more than a decade, the Academy has released the list of people who are invited to join the organization. But they never acknowledge which ones accept that invitation — and, crucially, they’ve never announced the full list of members who were already in the Academy.
To really gauge the success of the new diversity efforts, we’d need to see how the Academy’s makeup changes over the next five years. But unless AMPAS couples its push for diversity with a push for transparency, information about the initiative will be incomplete and piecemeal.
And without hard information, the only way to really measure progress will be in the Oscars nominations — the part of the process that is most dependent on movies made by studios and put before voters. That could make it harder for the Academy to show any real signs of progress.
The Academy also promised to put minority members on the branch executive committees, but since those names are never revealed, we may not know what they’ve actually done unless they decide to become more transparent.
Will emeritus members receive screeners in the foreign, documentary and shorts categories?
Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ original statement announcing the rule changes said that non-voting members will continue to receive awards-season screeners, a major perk of Academy membership. The FAQ repeated that claim, but later softened it somewhat: “You are still eligible to receive screeners. The Academy does not distribute screeners. Production companies and studios do.”
But the Academy does distribute screeners in several categories: it sends members all of the nominees in the foreign-language, documentary and shorts categories. Is it still planning to send those packages to members who shift to non-voting status? And how about emeritus members of the Documentary Branch, who for the past few years have been sent between 120 and 160 screeners of qualifying docs during the nominations phase?
It turns out that this is one question we can answer: According to the Academy spokesperson, emeritus members will indeed receive the screeners that are sent out by the Academy.
Will new board members have a different task than current members, who are elected to serve the interests of their branch?
The AMPAS Board of Governors consists of three governors from each of the Academy’s 17 branches, elected by branch members and installed to represent the interests of their branch. But last week’s rule changes added three members to the already-unwieldy 51-member board — and rather than being elected representatives of a branch, those three will be appointed by the Academy president and put in office presumably to represent the interests of minorities.
But how will that dynamic work? Will the new governors resist lobbying for the interests of their branch? If, say, Ava DuVernay is appointed diversity governor, that would put four members of the Directors Branch on the board overall — would she have to then ignore the directors as her constituency, since to do so would be to give their branch a numerical advantage over the 14 others?
How will the Academy put pressure on studios?
Those who’ve applauded and those who’ve criticized the Academy’s initiatives generally agree on one thing: The problem starts not with the Academy, but with the movie industry itself, and until more diverse voices are given positions of power within the studio system, voters will still face a lineup of potential nominees far too heavy on the white male perspective.
As Alejandro G. Iñárritu said at the Producers Guild nominees breakfast on Saturday, “The Academy and all the awards are at the end of the chain — change should happen at the beginning of the chain.”
So regardless of changes to AMPAS membership and leadership, the Academy can’t nominate movies that aren’t written, greenlit, financed, made and distributed. Is the organization hoping to simply lead by example, or does it have specific plans to pressure the studios?
Is this A2020?
At the Governors Awards in November, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs mentioned a new Academy initiative called A2020, which she said was designed to increase diversity in the Academy and the industry. At the time, TheWrap asked the Academy for more details, but an AMPAS spokesperson said it was premature to reveal any more information.
Given the fact that the press release announcing the Academy’s changes has as its goal doubling the number of minority members by 2020, is this A2020? Or is that something different? And if so, what is it and when are we going to hear about it?
Will it work?
The last and biggest question, no doubt, is this one. But that’s clearly impossible to answer, except in the sense that the Academy’s move has made it a central voice in a necessary Hollywood conversation that has reached a fever pitch in the last two weeks.
In that sense, you could say that it already has worked. Now, they just need to work out a few details …