Entertainment Lead Story Local News West Edition

Academy’s changes aren’t enough, say local activists

LOS ANGELES — Despite changes announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last week to its voting and membership procedures, local activists say it is not enough to account for decades of marginalization.

Following the Jan. 14 announcement of Oscar nominations, which — for the second year in a row — saw no actors of color receive any of the 20 nominations for awards, the Academy faced accusations of bias and discrimination.

In response, the Academy Jan. 22 unveiled a plan to double the number of women and minority members by 2020. To make room for fresh faces, members will lose their voting privileges if they become inactive in the industry after 10 years.

Najee Ali, the political director of the local chapter of the National Action Network, expressed gratitude toward Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs for taking the steps, but said they were “long overdue,” and still called for a boycott of the 2016 ceremony.

“We’re encouraging people to watch African-American movies that night rather than the Oscars,” he said.

Ali listed actors Will Smith and Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler as among those who were “snubbed” for their work on the films “Concussion” and “Creed” respectively, despite critical acclaim.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, took his criticism a step further, calling the proposed changes “time-delaying, cumbersome and convoluted.”

“The goal was to snatch lots of favorable [public relations], give the appearance of change and make the protest go away,” Hutchinson said in an email.

Hutchinson has his own suggestions to affect real change. If it would like to make a difference, the Academy Board of Governors should immediately add about 100 new slots to its membership, he said. These would be reserved for minority, female and youth nominees.

And because they have been overlooked this year, Hutchinson said he would like to see the Academy publicly recognize the contributions of Latino and African-American actors, actresses, directors and producers at this year’s ceremony.

The National Action Network is in the process of initiating discussions with the industry on how to make it more diverse, but Hutchinson claims to have already reached out twice to President Isaacs. Both times she declined.

That is proof, Hutchinson said, that the Academy’s proposed changes were “smoke and mirrors.”

The Academy Board of Governors voted Jan. 21 night to begin “an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.”

The Academy also agreed to establish three new board seats, with those representatives being nominated by the Academy president and approved by the board.

The Academy also plans to add members who do not serve on the Board of Governors to its executive and board committees, “where key decisions about membership and governance are made.”

“This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders,” according to the Academy.

The Academy also announced changes to its voting procedures, with each new member’s voting status lasting 10 years, and renewed if the member has been active in motion pictures during that time. Members will receive lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms, or if they have won or been nominated for an Oscar.

The new rules will be applied retroactively to current Academy members.

Members who do not qualify for active status will be transitioned to “emeritus status,” under which they do not pay dues and have no voting privileges.

Actress Viola Davis, 50, has said that the issue is not simply about this year’s Oscars, but that it is more systemic, based on the types of movies produced and which stories are brought to mainstream audiences.

“How many black films are being produced every year?” Davis asked. “How are they being distributed?

“The films that are being made, are the big-time producers thinking outside the box in terms of how to cast a role? You can change the Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?”

Ali also acknowledged the problem, and said that his organization plans to target the film studios next, due to the African-American talent and movies that aren’t developed.

“African-Americans, Latinos and Asians are just as talented as white actors, but have far fewer opportunities for their stories to be told,” Ali said.

The National Action Network is planning a major demonstration outside the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 28, the night of the ceremony, according to Ali. It will also include Project Islamic Hope, a nonprofit civil rights organization he founded, along with other groups.

“We’re calling upon celebrities who participate in the Oscars to wear black armbands in show of support and speak about diversity on the red carpet as well as when they receive their awards,” Ali said.

“Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have black kids and Sylvester Stallone helped earn his nomination on the back of black talent,” he said. “Hollywood is supposed to be so liberal. This will be a litmus test to see if participants stand up to a system steeped in white supremacy.”