The Oscars, the yearly award ceremony where The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences spotlights the best and brightest of Hollywood, has been plagued for years by complaints that it is out of touch with audiences and the changing landscape of the cinematic world. The lack of diversity among AMPAAS members in terms of background, ethnicity and age (an increasing majority tend to be older white actors, many of whom no longer work regularly in the industry) has been blamed for many of The Oscar’s alleged shortcomings, including a seeming disregard for comedic performances and a perceived bias against horror, science-fiction, fantasy, superheroes, stories focused on marginalized communities and other genres widely-beloved by an increasingly diverse global audience but ignored by The Academy.
The controversy reached a breaking-point this year, with institutional Academy bias blamed for a lack of diversity in nominations viewed as so egregious that it gave rise to the #OscarsSoWhite social media protest calls for a boycott of the ceremony by many industry professionals.
But change could soon be on the way: Following an “emergency meeting” on Thursday, January 22, The Academy has announced a series of sweeping changes to its leadership and membership rules aimed at correcting the situation by radically overhauling the current composition of eligible voters.
Starting later in 2016, the active membership term of new Academy members will last for a period of only ten years, renewable only so long as a member has stayed active in the film industry during that same decade; with lifetime voting-rights awarded only after three consecutive terms or if the member wins an Academy Award themselves. Members not qualifying for active status will instead become “emeritus” members, retaining all membership rights excluding the ability to vote in the Oscars – and these changes will be applied retroactively to current members whose terms fall within those same parameters. In addition, The Academy will forego its traditional sponsored membership-nomination process in favor of an “ambitious, global campaign” to recruit new members from diverse backgrounds. Three new seats will also be added to AMPAAS board of directors as part of the same initiative.
Though accusations that The Academy routinely ignores the contributions of African-Americans, female filmmakers and other marginalized groups has long persisted, the high-profile snubs of critical and box-office hits like Straight Outta Compton and Creed (which did snag one Supporting Actor nomination – for Sylvester Stallone) led to a greater than usual focus from the mainstream entertainment press. In a statement, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said:
“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up. These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”
In a separate meeting the same day, Academy representatives also met with officials from the ABC television network (which is schedule to broadcast the ceremony) and representatives for comedian Chris Rock in order to reaffirm Rock’s prior commitment to hosting the event. As part of the call for boycott, many had suggested that Rock might (or should) step down as host in protest, though Rock himself had made no statement on the matter up to this point. Many major Hollywood players such as Jada Pinkett-Smith, Will Smith and director Spike Lee had previously stated that they will be skipping the ceremony in solidarity with boycott activists.
The 2016 Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast live on ABC Sunday, February 28, 2016.