Some Diverse Views From Academy Members On #OscarsSoWhite The organization plans to increase diversity after criticism of a very white cast of nominees. A big difference in how some members feel about the changes is based on how they view the Academy's role.

Some Diverse Views From Academy Members On #OscarsSoWhite

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin, and this is For the Record.


EDDIE MURPHY: Hi, I'm Eddie Murphy.

MARTIN: In 1988, Eddie Murphy presented the nominees for best picture at the 60th Academy Awards. He told the audience that when his manager came to him and said he had been invited to present the best picture award, his initial reaction was...


MURPHY: I said, I'm not going because they haven't recognized black people in the motion pictures. He said, what are you talking about?

MARTIN: Tonight, almost 30 years later, the Academy Awards will be presented under a similar cloud.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The buzz surrounding this year's Oscars isn't just about who's walking the red carpet. It's also about who's not.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: It's trending again, this #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.

MARTIN: For the second year in a row, all of the acting nominees are white. After public outcry, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed its membership rules to try to diversify its ranks. For the Record today, three views on Oscars so white.


MARTIN: We're going to hear from three Academy members in a moment. But first, let's just review the changes the Academy has made. It used to be that if you were invited to join - and you did have to be invited - you could count yourself as a member of the Academy with voting rights until you died - lifetime membership. Now a voting-level membership is limited to 10 years and can only be renewed if you've been active in the movie industry during that decade.

ROGER ROSS WILLIAMS: I wholeheartedly approve of the changes.

MARTIN: This is Academy member and filmmaker Roger Ross Williams.

WILLIAMS: The Academy needs to make room for what America really looks like.

MARTIN: In 2010, Williams released his very first documentary film. It was called "Music By Prudence." And the next year at the Academy Awards, he became the first African-American filmmaker to win an Oscar.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: And the winner is "Music By Prudence," Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett.


MARTIN: What did change for you after that? I mean, how did that catapult your career?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I thought that it would change my career dramatically, and it did not. Even now, there's no agents beating down my door. There's no one calling me to do any commercials or branded content or even the sort of big, commercial documentary films. So...


WILLIAMS: You know - I think it's - I think that, you know, I don't look like them, the gatekeepers, the studio heads, the agents, the people who make those decisions. They look for people that they can relate to, that their stories, their experiences, they can relate to. And they look at me, sort of a black, gay man, and they can't relate to me. So they don't call me.


MARTIN: Academy member David Paul Kirkpatrick was one of those gatekeepers.

DAVID PAUL KIRKPATRICK: I was president of the Motion Picture Group of Paramount Pictures. I optioned "Forrest Gump." I was also a production chief of Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures.

MARTIN: Kirkpatrick is white and has been a member of the Academy since the mid-1980s. He told us he supports the Academy's goal to diversify its membership.

KIRKPATRICK: What I'm against is the Academy's sort of hasty decision to sort of obliterate the old folks inside the Academy as if it was some kind of white man's cabal who voted, you know, these people in. And by the way, I guess I would be part of that.

MARTIN: But was it not? I mean, the Academy is 94 percent white and 77 percent male, according to a 2012 LA Times investigation. That sounds...

KIRKPATRICK: You know, yeah - I mean, by the way, that's what I - that's what I have heard. And I do support this notion of diversity. I just think from the standpoint of people who have earned their stripes over the years, who have contributed significantly to the industry, that they be sort of thrown to the side from the standpoint of their voting ability...

MARTIN: He's not the only Academy member who feels this way.

PATRICIA RESNICK: OK, here's the thing. First of all, the Academy is not meant to reflect the diversity in America. The Academy is meant to be a reflection of the best of the business. The business is too white and too male.

MARTIN: Patricia Resnick is a screenwriter and producer. She wrote the 1980 hit film "Nine To Five." Resnick is a gay woman in her early 60s who will lose her Oscar voting privileges under the new rules because she's been working mostly in television.

RESNICK: As an older female, there's not a lot of movie work for me. And so basically, to say to people, OK, so the movie business isn't going to hire you anymore, so we're going to take away your voting privileges, I think is really wrong. If you've made enough of a contribution to become an Academy member, I think that's - that's lifetime. And I don't think people should be punished for aging out.

MARTIN: David Paul Kirkpatrick has a suggestion.

KIRKPATRICK: You can absolutely change the way a membership is decided. You can go from 6,000 members, which isn't that many, Rachel, to 8,000 members overnight if you change certain rules that will allow for that to happen.

MARTIN: The fundamental difference in the views of these three people is how they see the role of the Academy. Both Patricia Resnick and David Paul Kirkpatrick say the Academy is just a mirror, a reflection of the industry. And that's where the responsibility should lay, on studio executives, casting agents - not on the Academy.

RESNICK: The business itself is so white and so male and such a boys' club. And I think that's really the part of it that has to change. I also - I don't believe - when you say older white males and you're talking about the people in the Academy, it's an extremely liberal group of people. I honestly don't believe Academy members vote on race or gender. If they did, I would go through every nomination in every craft, and I would vote for women. I don't vote that way. I try to vote for what I think - what I think is best. And I have to say that the older members that I'm friendly with take it very seriously. The people that I know, they really try to - they try to watch everything.

MARTIN: But would an older member of the Academy, an older white member, connect with a movie like "Straight Outta Compton"?

RESNICK: I think they're likely to or not to. I mean, it did get nominated for screenplay.


MARTIN: Although, we should point out that the "Straight Outta Compton" screenwriters are white.


MARTIN: Roger Ross Williams says, yes, when it comes to diversity, Hollywood is broken. But he believes the Academy should set an example. It should represent the change he wants to see in the broader industry.


MARTIN: I asked Roger Ross Williams why he cares so much about the Academy anyway. His own Oscar win didn't give him many opportunities, at least not as many as he thought he'd get. The independent film scene is much more diverse and doesn't have to play by the same rule as establishment Hollywood. Even so, he says being a member of the Academy matters.

WILLIAMS: It's an organization of my peers. And that means a lot, to get that acknowledgment. It gives you sort of the strength and power to keep going on and keep making films. And you need a sense of community. And I think it's important that we use that community to help lift others up in the field.


MARTIN: That was Academy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams. We also heard from two other members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, David Paul Kirkpatrick and Patricia Resnick.

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