The inept bumbling of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came full circle Sunday night when an apparent effort to honor two iconic older actors imploded.
This at a time when the Academy is under fire for age discrimination.
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, stars of the classic 1967 movie, Bonnie and Clyde, were selected to announce the most important award of the evening, best picture of 2017. Unfortunately, they were handed the wrong envelope by the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers and, as a result, Dunaway mistakenly announced the wrong movie won the big award.
After producers of La La Land had thanked their mothers, a show producer stepped in to correct the mistake and the real winner, Moonlight, was announced. Beatty and Dunaway, both in their 70s, were left looking like dazed and confused before an audience of 34 million viewers.
A flurry of tweets and headlines from around the world blame Beatty and Dunaway, who were handed the wrong envelope by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
The sorry episode follows a controversial effort by the Academy, led by President Cheryl Boon Isaacs, to boost diversity in membership after African-Americans failed to be nominated for top acting awards two years in a row. Of the Academy’s 6,000-odd voting members, 94% were white. But instead of pursuing a thoughtful, nuanced approach, the Academy used a sledgehammer.
Without any evidence that the age of voting members was actually responsible for the so-called whitewash of 2015-2016, the Academy adopted a retroactive membership rule limiting members’ voting status to a decade, with renewal contingent upon whether the member is still “active” in film. This effort to purge older members from the voting roster occurred amid a backdrop of well-publicized age discrimination in Hollywood that forces older members out of the industry. A public outcry ensued after a 91-year-old white male member threatened to sue the Academy for age discrimination.
Ironically, an analysis by Economist last year found that the characteristics of Academy voting members was not primarily responsible for the lack of minority nominations in 2015-2016.
The Economist concluded that lack of diversity is an industry-wide problem and blamed drama schools (shown in the Screen Actor’s Guild membership) and casting offices.
Moreover, the Economist analyzed Oscar nominations since 2000 and found that while black actors received only 10% percent of Oscar nominations, they went on to win 15 percent of the Oscars. This is a higher proportion than their representation (12.6%) in the American population.
Black actors received 15% of the coveted golden statuettes, a bit above their share of the general population.
There is much more serious under-representation of other minority groups. The Economist found that just 3% of nominations have gone to Hispanic actors (16% of the population) and 1% to those with Asian backgrounds. (Note that Academy this year finally gave an honorary Oscar to Chinese actor Jackie Chan, a veteran of 56 years in the film industry, during a pre-Oscar dinner. Chan appeared to be sitting in the last row of a balcony at the Oscars).
Isaacs told Oscar viewers Sunday that she is proud “to see all the new faces among this year’s nominees.” She continued, “Tonight is proof that art has no borders, art has no single language and art does not belong to a single faith.”
Unfortunately, Oscar night was also proof that art is not immune to age discrimination.