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Film academy reaches 2020 diversity goals established after #OscarsSoWhite

The movie industry may be almost entirely shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the film academy is continuing to open up.

On Tuesday, in the latest step toward diversifying its historically white-male-dominated ranks, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opened its doors to 819 new members. It also announced that it has surpassed the goal, set in early 2016 in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, of doubling the number of women and underrepresented ethnic/racial communities in the group by 2020.

Representing 68 countries, the list of invitees includes such boldfaced names as Awkwafina, Olivia Wilde, Lakeith Stanfield and Constance Wu as well as many performers, filmmakers and below-the-line professionals whose names would be unfamiliar to even the most hardcore cinephiles. There are 75 past Academy Award nominees in the group, such as “Roma” star Yalitza Aparicio and “Harriet” star Cynthia Erivo, and 15 past Oscar winners.

According to the academy, the invitees, slightly smaller than last year’s class of 842, is 45% female (down from 50% last year) and 36% people from what it terms “underrepresented ethnic and racial communities” (up from 29% last year). In recent years past, the academy referred to “people of color” in announcing its new members, but the group acknowledges that tallies of such self-identifications, voluntarily disclosed by members, are not always exact. “The academy has used a very broad definition for ‘people of color’ over the years,” said one member who has served on branch committees that invite members.

As in recent years, the academy has drawn heavily from outside the United States, with nearly half of the invitees coming from foreign countries. Among the invitees are five stars of this year’s best picture winner, South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s class satire “Parasite”: Choi Woo-Shik, Jang Hye-Jin, Jo Yeo-Jeong, Lee Jung-Eun and Park So-Dam. Since 2015, the academy has nearly tripled its number of foreign members overall.

“The academy is delighted to welcome these distinguished fellow travelers in the motion picture arts and sciences,” academy president David Rubin said in a statement. “We have always embraced extraordinary talent that reflects the rich variety of our global film community, and never more so than now.”

The academy actually reached the total to double the number of people of color in its ranks last year but, perhaps owing to deep and intractable gender disparities in the industry, only achieved that benchmark with women this year. Seven of the academy’s branches invited more women than men this year, including both the organization’s largest branch, actors, and arguably its most powerful, executives.

As the academy has worked to give itself a makeover, its voting membership has soared by more than 60% from 5,765 in 2012 to more than 9,400 today, assuming, as is historically the case, the vast majority this year’s new class accept their invitations. Further boosting the number of voting members, the academy announced on Monday that it was extending voting privileges to agents, who had previously been non-voting associates.

In a landmark 2012 analysis, the Times reported that Oscar voters were then 94% white and 77% male. With its steps toward greater diversity, the group is now, by its own accounting, 81% white and 67% male. But with the nation’s attention intently focused on issues of racial inequality in the weeks since the police killing of George Floyd, the group has pledged to continue its drive toward inclusion.

Earlier this month, the organization announced the next phase of that campaign, which it is calling Academy Aperture 2025, geared toward further increasing representation in its governance, membership and workplace culture as well as in the films nominated for Oscars. To that end, the academy has created a task force of industry leaders to develop new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility by the end of July.

But as the academy’s membership has ballooned, some awards season veterans fear that it is actually becoming more difficult for smaller-scale films, which often have more diverse casts and crews, to break through. Without the attention Oscar nominations bring, one awards consultant said, movies made by women and people of color could end up being disproportionately hurt, as they tend to be indie films that have more modest commercial returns.

“The Farewell” stars Awkwafina and Tzi Ma have been invited to join the film academy’s actors branch.

(A24 / A24)

“Making it broader has made it harder for smaller films to get attention,” said this consultant, a longtime academy member, who spoke on background to avoid client conflicts. “Years ago, I think ‘The Farewell’ would have earned at least a screenplay nomination,” the consultant said of Wang’s acclaimed indie family drama. “It was completely shut out, likely because not enough members saw it.”

Academy chief executive Dawn Hudson acknowledged that, while the academy has reached the diversity goals it set for itself four years ago, its work is far from finished.

“We take great pride in the strides we have made in exceeding our initial inclusion goals set back in 2016, but acknowledge the road ahead is a long one,” Hudson said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to foster an academy that reflects the world around us in our membership, our programs, our new Museum, and in our awards.”

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