US film academy vows to double minority memberships

Organisation responsible for Oscar awards promises change in light of recent boycott protesting lack of diversity.

Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith
Actors Jada Pinkett-Smith and her husband Will Smith said they would boycott the Oscars [Paul Buck/AP]

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises Hollywood’s annual Oscar awards ceremony, has pledged to double its membership of women and minorities by 2020.

The announcement on Friday came after a week-long furore over a lack of diversity in the Oscars awards, with an all white cast in the nominations for the main acting categories for the second year running.

Not a single male or female nominee running for the main acting prizes is black or from minority backgrounds.

In its statement, the Academy said its goal was to double the number of minority members by 2020.

It would, the Academy promised, “take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made.

READ MORE: Filmmaker Spike Lee blasts ‘lily-white’ Oscars

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

William Bibbiani, film editor for Crave Online, told Al Jazeera: “I think it’s long overdue; if the Academy wants to be considered a leader in the entertainment industry, then it’s up to them to address issues of diversity.”

By Saturday, several celebrities said they would boycott the awards to protest the lack of recognition of black actors and others from minority backgrounds, including prominent filmmaker and director Spike Lee and actors Jada Pinkett-Smith and her husband Will Smith.

The actor Mark Ruffalo said that while he supported the boycott, he would still attend the ceremony on February 28.

Musician Snoop Dogg and singer and actor Tyrese Gibson, who are both African American, also shared their support on social media – but neither had been invited to the ceremony, according to reports.

However, the actress Charlotte Rampling told French media that such a boycott was racist to white people, while actor Michael Caine has been quoted as saying he thinks black people should be more “patient”.

READ MORE: Why the Oscars are still in black and white

“The artistic community is so much more diverse than it has ever been before,” editor Bibbiani said.

He added that as well as the Academy’s membership lacking diversity, “the entertainment industry is predominantly run by white men”.

Asked whether he thought there were any viable contenders for the awards from ethnic minority backgrounds, he said that actors in films such as Straight Outta Compton and Creed deserved recognition, adding that Concussion starring Will Smith and Beasts of No Nation featuring Idris Elba were “Oscar-worthy” movies.

The diversity shortage has revived a hashtag on social media from last year: #OscarsSoWhite.

Ali Jaafar, film journalist and former Variety International editor, told Al Jazeera that while he welcomed the changes in the Academy’s membership selection process, the issue of diversity goes beyond awards ceremonies.

“To try and broaden that church is a good thing,” said the UK-based journalist. “More important than the nominations, and this might lead to that, is the fact that you have a diverse workforce including cast, crew, filmmakers and executives.”

Creed and Straight Outta Compton, which enjoyed high box office sales, were examples of that type of across the board diversity, added Jaafar.

“It’s a clear, tangible indication of people voting with their feet,” Jaafar said, referring to high ticket sales. “Thankfully, those films are being made.”

African-American comedian and actor Chris Rock will host next month’s ceremony.

Addressing Rock’s role in the awards, David A Love, editor of, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday: “You can’t have symbolism to make up for years of systemic discrimination.” 

Follow Anealla Safdar on Twitter: @anealla

Source: Al Jazeera