The Academy Shakes Things Up With More Diverse Oscar Membership

It looks like the MPAA wants to move away its reputation for being a group of old, American white men.

oscar awardThe Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences — the “Academy” that everyone thanks when they’re accepting their Oscar award — has named its list of potential new members and it’s clear they’re trying to be more diverse. This includes racial diversity, age diversity, diversity of style and diversity of national origin.

Seeming to finally take the persistent criticism that the Academy is just a group of out-of-touch, old white American men to heart, the list of actors that have been invited to join spans across all sorts of boundaries. Some famous names are Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who The Hollywood Reporter notes ticks off the “middle-aged” box at 53 years old; June Squibb, the 84-year-old actress who was nominated last year for her performance in Nebraska; Michael Fassbender; Lupita Nyong’o; Chris Rock; and Pharrell.

It will be interesting to see how the new line up changes who is handed an Oscar on the big night.

The biggest complaint about the homogeneity of the Academy is the feeling that deserving work is overlooked while random and not-so-great movies, performances and songs are recognized. There’s a sense on Oscar night — as there is on Grammy night — that the same stuff is chosen, like a formula, while cutting edge films and songs are pushed aside.

Moreover, there is the feeling that the Academy fails to recognize the work of minorities and women behind the scenes, especially female directors. By choosing some fresh names and faces, we could be pleasantly surprised.

We need only look at the way Nyong’o was propelled to the Hollywood A-list based on her performance in 12 Years a Slave. Since the film was released, she’s not only won an Oscar, but has appeared in the Lancome advertising campaign, on the covers of tons of magazines and made appearances on countless red carpets. She has become one of the prominent faces in Hollywood, one that doesn’t resemble the stereotype of the typical Academy member. And she has spoken openly about how her skin color has been an issue for her. She has been embraced for being beautiful, smart and talented. But her story is one of a typical starlet.

In order to keep up, the Academy has to change the make up and perception of its organization.

THR fears the Academy may have gone a step too far by bringing in Rob Riggle, a correspondent on The Daily Show and frequent supporting actor, and Berkhad Abdi, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Captain Phillips, but hasn’t done much more. Valid point. You don’t want to diminish your reputation by being “diverse” for diversity’s sake.

But for the most part, this is a positive for the Academy and for films. Diverse viewpoints will go far in opening doors for talent that may have otherwise gotten shut out.

Image via Helga Esteb / Shutterstock