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#OscarsSoWhite: Oscar should be ashamed of himself...

Oscars So White: Shocking Stats of Academy’s Voting Demographics

Lisa J. Ellwood
2/18/16

The latest incarnation of #OscarsSoWhite, a social media discussion/campaign created in the wake of last year’s nominations by African-American Twitter user @ReignofApril, who continues to lead the charge via social media in pointing out the lack of diverse nominations for the second year running), might have been glossed over by the Academy again had it not also been for a number of A-list actors, most notably Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, voicing their criticism and declining to attend this year’s ceremony.

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, quickly issued a statement shortly after Pinkett Smith’s video release on January 18th stating that though she celebrated the achievements of this year’s nominees, she was “heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion”.

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, quickly issued a statement shortly after Pinkett Smith’s video release on January 18th stating that though she celebrated the achievements of this year’s nominees, she was “heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion”.  (Photo AP Images)

See Related: Jada Pinkett Smith Video Ripping Oscars Goes Viral

While acknowledging that this is a “difficult but important conversation,” Boone Isaac said the Academy would take further steps via membership recruitment to ensure that there is much-needed diversity in next year’s class.

The response to Boone Isaacs’s statement was somewhat skeptical. The reasons for that have everything to do with how little is known about the Academy’s demographics, voting and recruiting process. The Academy’s optimistic claim that it will double the number of women and minorities by 2020 falls flat when you look at the available data.

“Even inside the movie industry, intense speculation surrounds the academy's composition and how that influences who gets nominated for and wins Oscars. The organization does not publish a membership list,” the Los Angeles Times reported as part of its 2012 “Unmasking Oscar:  Academy voters are overwhelmingly white and male” investigation.

The Times investigation, along with various surveys and analyses of Oscar nominations and winners by numerous publications including Quartz, and Time Magazine, is very revealing:

  • Of the 1,668 acting nominations since the Oscars began in 1929, 6.7% have gone to people of color.

  • In past 25 years, 12.4% of the 1,688 total acting nominees were people of color – 62 in all.

  • The combined nominations of the various categories that have gone to people of color are less than 5% of the total nominations.

Academy membership includes nearly 6,000 people who work in the film industry.

  • Memberships are for life.

  • Prospective members must be sponsored by two current members. The only exception to this is the automatic consideration for membership that comes with being nominated for an Oscar in any of the categories.

  • As of 2013,the Academy had added 432 voting members over a two-year period. Even with a smidgen of added “diversity,” almost 94% of Academy members were white

  • 77% of Academy members were male, with a median age of 62

  • 14% of Academy members were under 50.

  • Nearly 50% of the Academy's actors had appeared on screen in the past two years

  • Hundreds of voters hadn't worked on a movie in decades. Some were people who have  left the business entirely but continue to vote, including a nun, a bookstore owner and a retired Peace Corps recruiter.

  • After the 2015 Academy Awards, another 322 voting members were added, including several high-profile black actors and directors, and the Academy announced a diversity initiative targeting women and minorities. Despite this, nothing really changed.

As of this writing:

  • Roughly 93% of Academy members are white.

  • Roughly 77% of Academy members are male, with an average age of 63.

  • Of 51 Academy Governors, only 2 are people are color, and one of these is Boone Isaacs.

  • The Academy has one Native American voting member, actor and American Indians in Film (AIFT) Founder Sonny Skyhawk, who votes in the acting categories.

See Related: Sonny Skyhawk: Three Decades of Fighting the Power in Hollywood

Sonny Skyhawk (Photo: IMDB)

It’s important to note that:

  • None of the surveys on Academy demographics and minority representation includes a listing for Native Americans. At best, NDNs might sometimes be accounted for in an “Other” category.

  • Even opinion polls including the Kaiser Family / CNN partnership poll are Black / White / Hispanic splits (in line with US inequality surveys by the likes of Pew & Demos).

Boone Isaacs called an emergency meeting of the Academy’s Board of Governors in an effort to stem the flow of criticism within a few days of releasing her personal statement. The result was a press release indicating that ‘historic’ measures are to be taken which should guarantee a more diverse Oscars in the future.

Per the release, beginning later this year:

  • Each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that member has been active in the business during that decade.  

  • Members will receive lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. These same standards will be applied retroactively to current members.  

  • The Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.  

  • The Academy will also take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter published January 27th, Boone Isaacs claims that what the Academy refers to as its A2020 diversity measures had already been on the cards and would have been announced later this year, but this latest controversy erupting has prompted immediate action.

Change in privileges for voting members have unleashed a backlash by Academy members through mainstream media, including the Hollywood Reporter which created a platform for Academy member commentary. The incessant diatribes along with reverse racism ideology from many quarters has driven home how deeply entrenched White privilege and racism are in Hollywood.

ICTMN's Cartoonist Marty Two Bulls

As Variety writer Tim Gray recently expressed: “the ongoing diversity failure is a reflection of the entire film industry, not just the Academy, and people of color have had to have to bear these frustrations for too long.

“The 89-year-old motion picture academy is absorbing the brunt of the public disdain. But the fault lies not just in the star-making Oscars, many agreed, but in ourselves,” he says. “The Hollywood studio hierarchy remains an exclusive club chaired by white men and one white woman. The big talent agencies have almost no minority partners. And the media that cover it all – Variety included – employ only a few people of color.”

See Related: Variety Writer: Hollywood Has a Diversity Crisis, Not Just the Oscars 

Follow ICTMN Correspondent Lisa J. Ellwood on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IconicImagery

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