Those absences from the nominees list — along with the all-white acting categories, which make this year’s ceremony the whitest Oscars since 1998 — have inspired a deluge of criticism about the Academy’s demographics and biases. In 2012, a LA Times survey found Oscar voters to be 94% white and 77% male, with a median age of 62. Less than 15% were under the age of 50. Since there are no retirement requirements for members, change within the Academy will be slow.
All of this puts Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American president of AMPAS (and the third woman in that position), in an awkward position. A film marketing executive, Boone Isaacs responded to allegations of racism and sexism influencing the Academy’s nominations in the only way that was really available to her, by praising diversity, Selma, and the other films that received the nominations DuVernay and her film should have gotten.
“In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” Boone Isaacs told the AP. “And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”
“What is important not to lose sight of is that Selma, which is a fantastic motion picture, was nominated for best picture this year, and the best picture category is voted on by the entire membership of around 7,000 people,” she continued. “[The best picture category] is an award that showcases the talent of everyone involved in the production of the movie Selma.”
As for the best actor race, Boone Isaacs noted, “There are quite a few actors this year at the top of their game. … There are five nominees and this year, these were the five.”
For her part, DuVernay has tried to keep the focus on Martin Luther King, Jr., the subject of her movie, since the nominations were announced last Thursday. She joined Oyelowo, producer/co-star Oprah Winfrey, soundtrack contributors John Legend and Common, and other cast and crew in marching in Selma in remembrance of King on the civil rights leaders’ holiday.
DuVernay also recorded a MLK Day message as part of MTV’s #thetalk, a special about race. “We need to expand our minds to appreciate our differences. To be color-blind, is not a thing I don’t think that one should boast about,” she said. “See color and celebrate it. See our differences and celebrate it. When somebody says to me, ‘I’m color-blind. I don’t see color,’ I’m thinking ‘You’re missing out on a lot of beautiful colors.'”[via AP, THR]