The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the finalists this week for the coveted Oscar awards and, sure enough, there was much more diversity than in the past.
It appears the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite – adopted after no African-American actor received an Oscar nomination for two consecutive years – will be retired (for this season anyway).
But a question remains about the degree to which the Academy’s progress came at the expense of its oldest (predominately white male) members.
The Academy Board of Directors took a short cut to boost diversity last year . Instead of pursuing a thoughtful and deliberate course of action, it adopted a new and retroactive membership rule that was obviously intended to reduce the number of older voting members. According to published reports, the Academy limited most members’ voting status to a decade, with renewal contingent upon whether the member is still “active” in film.
Did the Academy merely swap one kind of discrimination for another?
The Academy’s new membership rule disproportionately disenfranchises older professionals, many of whom are forced out of the entertainment industry due to pervasive age discrimination. In short, they can’t remain active because no one will hire them because of their age.
Ironically, while the Academy was stripping its oldest members of their voting rights, the CA legislature was debating a proposed bill to combat age discrimination in the entertainment industry.
California Governor Jerry Brown last Fall signed into law a bill that allows actors to demand that their ages be removed from leading casting web sites, such as Internet Movie Database (IMDb). This law is currently being contested by IMDb.
In addition to the new membership rule, the Academy, with almost 7,000 members, has been engaged in an unprecedented recruitment campaign, directly mainly at women and minorities.
Vocal opposition to the Academy’s blatant assault on older members fueled a huge and bitter backlash that reportedly has resulted in fewer older members being ousted from voting membership. The Academy has declined to say how many older members have been deemed “inactive” and stripped of their voting status.
The whole episode is unsettling and undermines the Academy’s stated mission of honoring excellence in the industry. If the Academy is correct, its members do not vote for excellence at all but for familiarity, age and “tribe.”
In the past, the inference was that the Academy failed to recognize excellent performances by African-American actors because of race discrimination. Should we infer that the minority actors who were nominated for Oscars this year owe the honor to age discrimination?