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After Long-Criticized Diversity Issue, Film Academy Votes To Change
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After Long-Criticized Diversity Issue, Film Academy Votes To Change

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After Long-Criticized Diversity Issue, Film Academy Votes To Change

After Long-Criticized Diversity Issue, Film Academy Votes To Change
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/464090897/464090898" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The people in charge of the Oscars have announced reforms to increase diversity in their organization and in the awards. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks to Neda Ulaby.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And on the West Coast, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Oscar people, have announced big changes in how the awards will work. This comes after intense controversy and threatened boycotts over nominees for this year's Oscars. For the second straight year, no people of color were nominated in any acting category, and several high-profile movies featuring African-Americans were shut out of the best picture category. NPR's Neda Ulaby has been following the issue. She joins us from our studios at NPR West.

Hi, Neda.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: This is not just about the Oscar nominations this year. The academy has been struggling with issues around diversity for a long time.

ULABY: Yeah, it's really an institutional issues. There's about 6,000 members of the academy. In 2012, the LA Times did a survey of about 5,000 of them, and what the survey discovered was that the membership is about 93 percent white, about 76 percent male and the average age was 63 years old. So this is not a membership that represents either the country or the entertainment industry. The academy has, since then, tried to diversify a little bit. But it's been - it hasn't made a huge, radical push. And that's what it's talking about doing now.

MARTIN: So what will these changes be?

ULABY: So they had a meeting on Thursday night responding to all of the furor about the most recent nominations. And what happened was the academy decided to double the number of women and people of color who can vote in the Academy Awards - by 2020. The academy president Cheryl Boones Isaac (ph) is African-American, and she says the academy needs to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up. They're making changes over who gets to vote. The lot of people in the academy are just very, very old. A lot of them haven't been active in the industry for decades. They're trying to make room for newer, younger people and people from more diverse backgrounds to take part in the most prestigious award in the business.

MARTIN: How long have people been pushing back against the academy on this issue?

ULABY: Well, for a really long time. In 1996, the Rev. Jesse Jackson organized national protests over the lack of African-American representation. And in 1988, Eddie Murphy arguably put his career a little bit on the line when he talked about this issue at length at the Academy Awards when he was giving the best picture award.

MARTIN: So as you pointed out, this is something they've struggled with for a long time. They're now saying they're really going to make changes to how the voting happens.

Is that likely to satisfy people who've been criticizing the academy for a long time about its record on diversity?

ULABY: You know, who knows? Who knows what exactly is going to happen? But some of the celebrities who've been critical have thanked the academy for taking these issues seriously. And to - the thing is, this is going to help the Oscars in other ways. Ratings have been tanking recently, and it's partly because the membership has been picking movies that, frankly, not a lot of people necessarily have enjoyed or even bothered to care about. Movies like "Creed" and "Straight Outta Compton" were pretty much overlooked, and those were movies that people, even younger people within the industry, thought were really terrific movies that should have gotten more recognition.

MARTIN: NPR's Neda Ulaby.

Thanks so much, Neda.

ULABY: Thank you.

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Film Academy Votes To Increase Diversity

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscar Awards, is 93 percent white, with an average age of 63. i

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscar Awards, is 93 percent white, with an average age of 63. Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP hide caption

toggle caption Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscar Awards, is 93 percent white, with an average age of 63.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscar Awards, is 93 percent white, with an average age of 63.

Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Following criticism over the lack of diversity in this year's Oscar nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has voted to approve changes aimed at doubling the number of women and people of color in its membership by 2020.

The board of governors unanimously approved a series of changes to "make the Academy's membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse," the organization said in a statement.

NPR's Neda Ulaby reports that the academy called an emergency meeting on Thursday night in response to threats of boycotts against this year's awards ceremony.

"It pledged to not only recruit but double the number of women and people of color in membership over the next four years and to make changes in its current membership" to promote diversity.

The announcement came after the organization was blasted for having no nonwhite nominees for the 20 acting awards — for the second year in a row. The movies Creed, Straight Outta Compton and Concussion — all of which feature black characters in key roles — were also snubbed. The nominations prompted the revival of #OscarsSoWhite on social media, which pointedly called out the homogeneity of the Academy Awards.

The lack of diversity among nominees wasn't surprising to Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

"Were talking about an academy that's overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male," he told All Things Considered. "93 percent white, 76 percent male, average age 63. People are voting for things that resonate with their experiences and unfortunately it's too narrow a slice."

The changes not only expand diversity of future membership but change the demographic of current members. As it stands now, many voting members have not been active in the industry for decades. Under the new rules, they will have to be active to vote, although there are some exceptions, including for previous Oscar winners.

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