MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Switching gears now to a major story about entertainment in this country, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that hosts the Oscars, is about to go through a major shakeup in response to criticism that the Oscars don't recognize this country's diversity. On Friday, the Academy announced big changes to who gets to vote as well as a new initiative to ensure that the Academy doubles the number of women and minority members by the year 2020. This all comes less than a week after director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith announced that they would be bypassing this year's Oscars. Here to tell us more about the latest developments is Rebecca Keegan. She covers film for the Los Angeles Times. Rebecca, thanks so much for talking to us.
REBECCA KEEGAN: Hey. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So can you walk us through the changes in a way that would make sense to those of us who don't cover the film industry and don't really know the ins and the outs?
KEEGAN: Well, in addition to their commitment to double the number of women and minorities, the most significant thing the Academy did was say that it's going to start taking some members off its voting rolls. That hasn't happened since 1970. What the Academy said is that it is going to invite new members for periods of 10 years, and then they have to have worked in the film industry to come on for another 10 years. Basically, the effect this will have is, there are a lot of people who joined the Academy in the '70s or '80s and then never worked in the film industry again. The Academy doesn't want those people voting on the Oscars going forward.
MARTIN: And when does all this go into effect?
KEEGAN: It won't affect the voting for this year's Academy Awards, but it will start going into effect after that. So the people who were nominating next year will reflect this changed Academy.
MARTIN: You wrote about this earlier this week. You said that this kind of a move would be so bold and so unlikely that it could inspire outrage and even lawsuits. Is there a sense of that happening?
KEEGAN: Yeah. I mean, around the newsroom, we were referring to this as the nuclear option. This is the kind of thing that the Academy had talked about doing on various committees for years, but it never went through for one reason or another. There have been some Academy members who've said that they would look into the possibility of legal recourse for this. Just based on the amount of phone calls I've received, particularly from older Academy members, people have a lot of questions and concerns. There are a lot of people who feel like they have aged out of the industry not by choice but because they work in an ageist industry, and they're wondering what this means for them. By the way, there are exceptions for people who were nominated for an Oscar or who got an Oscar. So if you got an Oscar in the '70s and you never worked again, you'll still be in the Academy.
MARTIN: You know, you make interesting point, though, that some of these people saying that the reason that they haven't worked is not that they didn't want to work but that they were unable to get work, which is very similar to the argument that some of the minority actors are making, which is, it's not that they, you know - that they aren't given these opportunities. So that's kind of interesting dilemma there. But speaking of the - kind of the other side of the equation are people like Spike Lee, suggesting that they might change their minds in response to this move.
KEEGAN: Spike hasn't said anything yet. Neither has Jada Pinkett Smith or Will Smith, who said that they wouldn't attend the Oscars. There are a lot of people who had been talking of boycotting the Oscars online, people who are not Academy members but who are audience numbers who are saying that they feel encouraged by this news and that they might instead tune in.
MARTIN: So before we let you go, Rebecca, can I just ask you, as a person who's covered this industry for a while, what's your sense of what's motivating these changes now? Is this perception? Is it that the Academy doesn't like how it's being represented? Is it a business decision? What are the factors here that you think are causing this to finally become an actionable issue?
KEEGAN: Well, the Academy has, for the last few years, been pushing for more diversity among the new members it invites. I do think the Oscars-so-white controversy accelerated their process. A lot of the measures they announced on Friday they had been working on for months, and they decided, let's not wait; let's go ahead and vote on these, pass them and announce them. And I think, you know, what people have a tendency to say - oh, it doesn't matter; it's the Oscars; it's a silly award show; it's about what you're wearing on the red carpet. But the truth is, people around the world take cues about culture from an event like the Oscars. If 40 million people are tuning in, they're getting an idea about what our culture values. And if our culture is saying, actually, we just value white people, that's a huge important message (laughter) that these people are soaking in, and in many ways, I think it affects people at a deeper level than we realize.
MARTIN: That's Rebecca Keegan, a staff writer of the Los Angeles Times. She covers film, and she was nice enough to let us call her at home. Rebecca, thanks so much for speaking with us.
KEEGAN: Thanks for having me.
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