While the world is constantly taking steps of progress in the right direction for racial equality, the Academy Awards seems to be stuck in the past of white male supremacy. Annually, the Academy is criticized for the lack of diversity in its nominations, and this year is no exception. With the astounding deficiency in racial heterogeneity amongst those nominated, let us contemplate the source of such uniformity: the 6028 voting members of the Academy.
In order to be considered for membership to the Academy, one must be a film artist with “at least two feature film credits of caliber” or have at least one Academy Award nomination. However, a survey conducted by the Los Angeles Times in 2012 found that 93 percent of Academy members were white and 76 percent were male, whereas only 2 percent of members were black and Latino, respectively.
The average age of an Academy member was 62.
When looking at this old boys club, it is not hard to see why thousands of viewers have pledged to boycott the Oscars this year. The Academy did induct about 400 new members over the past two years in an attempt to shake up these numbers, but these additions only altered the diversity of Academy membership slightly. While this lack of variation in membership is a scandal in itself, the absence of equality is truly disheartening. When the majority of modern day white people only vote for other modern day white people, it is a scary day to be in the twenty-first century. Film-artists are accepted to be members of the Academy only by other members, which should put a stop to inequality in the first place. Yet for years, the 93 percent white member rate has been retained. On top of this, these 93 percent white voices are given the power to decide nominations for arguably the most important cinematic award in the world, and again they are choosing white supremacy.
Black actors this year that had been considered shoe-ins were shockingly neglected by the Academy: Will Smith in Concussion, Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight, Tessa Thompson in Creed, and Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton. Jada Pinkett-Smith has openly stated that she and Will Smith will not be attending the Oscars. The Smiths have been criticized for this move, with press accusing them of being petty and bitter about their lack of nominations. In a response with Entertainment Weekly, Jada Pinkett-Smith stated how “This whole Oscar controversy isn’t really about the Oscars. Really, in my plea to ask all communities and people of color to take back our power is so that we can use it in all sectors of our community, right now, especially with African-American people.”
On the same day that the Smiths revealed their boycott, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African American, made the first statement on the matter in the name of the Academy. Boone Isaacs congratulated all of the nominees, but also announced that she was “both heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion.” Boone Isaacs stated that Academy would, in the future, evaluate its member application process, which we can only hope will include some serious soul searching on the part of the current members.