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Academy changes voting, membership procedures

LOS ANGELES — Reeling from criticism over two straight years of all-white Oscar acting nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a series of changes to its voting and membership procedures Jan. 22 with the aim of doubling its female and “diverse” membership by 2020.

“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

According to the Academy, the Board of Governors voted Jan. 21 night to begin “an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.”

It also agreed to establish three new board seats, with those representatives being nominated by the Academy president and approved by the board.

The Academy also plans to add members who do not serve on the Board of Governors to its executive and board committees, “where key decisions about membership and governance are made.”

“This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders,” according to the Academy.

The Academy also announced changes to its voting procedures, with each new member’s voting status lasting 10 years, and renewed if the member has been active in motion pictures during that time. Members will receive lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms, or if they have won or been nominated for an Oscar.

The new rules will be applied retroactively to current Academy members.

Members who do not qualify for active status will be transitioned to “emeritus status,” under which they do not pay dues and have no voting privileges.

The changes will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars, according to the Academy.

The changes came after writer/director Spike Lee, who received an honorary Oscar in November, blasted the Academy Jan. 18 for the lack of black nominees over the past two years. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, whose husband Will Smith was left off this year’s Oscar nominations list, announced she plans to boycott next month’s Oscars due to the lack of diversity among the nominated performers.

“How is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the actor category are white?” Lee wrote on his Instagram page. “And let’s not even get into the other branches. Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all. We can’t act?!”

Smith posted a video on Facebook announcing her plans to avoid the Oscar telecast and ceremony. Her husband was not nominated for an Oscar this year despite being critically acclaimed for his role in “Concussion.” Will Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe for best drama actor, but lost to Leonardo DiCaprio.

“Begging for acknowledgement or even asking diminishes dignity and diminishes power and we are a dignified people and we are powerful, let’s not forget it,” she said. “So let’s let the Academy do them with all the grace and love and let’s do us differently.”

Over the course of the week, various performers have weighed in on the debate, including Viola Davis, who said the problem is not with the Academy, but the studios that make decisions about which films to make.

The Los Angeles chapter of the National Action Network is calling for a boycott of the Oscars telecast Feb. 28 and also plans to stage a protest outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood the day of the show.

A statement issued by chapter president the Rev. K.W. Tulloss and Political Director Najee Ali, said “The National Action Network is grateful for the leadership of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We commend her and the Board of Governors for their announcement of the proposed changes to increase diversity within the academy. This is long overdue.

“But the Oscar’s boycott is in response to no African-American nominees in the major acting categories for the second year in a row,” the statement said. “That’s simply unacceptable and we must take a stand. If no African-Americans are nominated, why should we watch and support an all white Oscars?

“It sends a message that an African American, Chris Rock, can be the host and African Americans can participate as presenters. But no African-Americans are worthy of a nomination. The job of African-American talent at the ceremony is to entertain and present white people their Oscar awards tonight.”

With some small exceptions, this year’s nominations for acting Oscars are largely the same as those for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which are usually a strong indicator of winners on Oscar night.

SAG, however, nominated black actor Idris Elba for his supporting role in “Beasts of No Nation,” which was also nominated for outstanding ensemble cast. SAG also gave an ensemble nomination to “Straight Outta Compton.”

The Golden Globe Award acting nominations this year were also mostly white, with Elba and Will Smith the only black nominees.


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