Academy Members React to Rule Changes to Deal with Nominations Controversy

Academy Members React to Rule Changes to Deal with Nominations Controversy

After the lack of diversity in Oscar nominations sparked a furor for the second year in a row, including decisions by Spike Lee (“Chi-Raq”), Michael Moore (“Where to Invade Next”), Will Smith (“Concussion”), and Jada Pinkett Smith (“Magic Mike XXL”) to skip next month’s ceremony amid the #OscarSoWhite social media conversation, the Academy’s 51-member board unanimously endorsed major changes to its membership Thursday night. Three board members represent the members of each of the Academy’s branches. 

READ MORE: The Academy’s Diversity Problem is Complicated 

It’s not only the anger at the lily-white nominations in major categories this year. It’s also the way the Academy will be represented on the Oscar show all over the world. Even though the largely white male, older membership has rewarded movies from “12 Years a Slave” to “Selma,” the board wants to increase diversity in its voting ranks and try to weed out members who are inactive. They want a younger, hipper voting body to put “Straight Outta Compton” and “Creed” —or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”—on the ABC live telecast. The preferential ballot was partly responsible for creating a list of consensus Best Picture nominees, but changes in the Best Picture voting process—which keeps being tinkered with— have not yet been mentioned. 

If you have been active for three ten year spans as a member, or won a nomination or an Oscar, you are able to vote for life, which protects many of the older members. But many, many Academy voters no longer work and are being summarily kicked out of an organization that prized them for their expertise. 

“You work your ass off for 40 years to get enough credits to get into this organization,” said costume designer Jane Ruhm, “and then they kick you out. It’s a sad state of affairs. I’m done.” 

A ten-year-member, Ruhm was active in the screening committee that books the films the members see throughout the year, as well as voting for foreign film, a group of voters from across the branches who tended to have the time to view multiple films a week. “The Academy is the whipping boy for the industry, which is fucked up and doesn’t hire women and minorities,” said Ruhm. “And I am paying for it, which is unfair. It kills me. It makes me feel so bad.” 

Other Academy members are upset by this unilateral action that was taken in haste without their input. Publicist Bruce Feldman, who is protected by the 30-year rule, wrote emails to his governors begging them to listen to the members before taking a vote, he said: “This is not about the reforms, these are serious issues. They didn’t communicate with the membership about what they were thinking about or solicit feedback. We are a membership organization. It’s a failure of governance as far as addressing issues in the right way. Engage fully with the members and then act.” 

The Academy will be taking on a process to establish the status of their membership, which may be challenging for consultants, writers and producers —how will they be judged? On developing projects, income, or credits? Many people like Ruhm also accumulate many credits in television, not film. 

As far as I can figure it, these rule changes are most likely to impact middle-aged boomers who are nearing retirement but haven’t been members that long—who would have had years of voting ahead of them—while protecting their elders who have safely fulfilled their three active decades. 

Read the president’s letter to Academy members below. 

Dear Member,

I realize the last few days have been tough for all of us,
with so many voices in the mix.

Last night, the Board of Governors made a series of
courageous steps.

Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status
will last ten years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in
motion pictures during that decade. 
In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three
ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy
Award.  We will apply these same
standards retroactively to current members.  In other words, if a current member has not been active in
the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria.  Those who do not qualify for active
status will be moved to emeritus status. 
Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of
membership, except voting.  We have
no reason to believe this will affect you receiving screeners.  This will not affect voting for this
year’s Oscars.

We are confident this is a
necessary step in the right direction and we appreciate your support with this
endeavor as we work out the details in the coming weeks and months.  We will be in touch with you regularly
to update you on specific changes.
  

Here’s more from the announcement today:

At the same time, the Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.
In order to immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the President for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board.
The Academy will also 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. This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.

Along with Boone Isaacs, the Board’s Membership and Administration Committee, chaired by Academy Governor Phil Robinson, led the efforts to enact these initiatives.  

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Comments

Florencio Corona

So they are keeping the old primarily white male geezers and getting rid of younger voters. Way to go.

Ann

For the Oscars and almost every awards organization, almost all the nominees in every category are WHITE MALES. Almost the ONLY time women are ever nominated in any category are in the 2 acting categories specially set aside for women. If acting categories specifically for women didn’t exist, do you really think they’d be nominated? They aren’t nominated in any of the other categories. The women haven’t boycotted. Kudos to those who are boycotting the lack of diversity.

JONNY5

@bunnington

"So, if a woman works and does well enough to be deemed eligible for Academy membership, but then has a family and doesn’t continue to work, she can be kicked out? This would never happen to a man and sounds sexist at a time they are encouraging diversity."

So men die or are maimed on the front line in combat and that’s okay, This would never happen to a woman and sounds sexist

Film_Opinion

Unless we start to see diverse films that are actually deserving of an Oscar, then Barbershop 3 will win Best Picture next year. It will be the voters’ way of saying, "See, we’re not racist."

chubbco

Yes, you have it right, Anne, except that I guess I’m beyond middle-aged now. The first thought through my mind was thanks be, I’m producing a picture right now, so I’m good for another ten years. And the second thought was, who’s kidding whom? Non-voting members will get no screeners, no invitations to special brunches and screeners. That’s a laugh and a half.

It’s a tough problem for the Academy, admittedly. We want to honor the past of Academy members and presume their judgment remains sound, but the world is fast-changing and it’s important to keep step. Otherwise, one becomes a Trumpist, locked in a vision of an impossibly Arcadian past and resentful of a different;y structured but possibly vibrantly colored present.

VanRamblings

No Academy member will lose their membership, rather some members will lose their voting privileges. In the case of Ms. Ruhm, she can continue her work on the screening committee, but may lose her voting privilege. Academy President Gregory Peck brought in changes to membership voting in 1971 that negated voting rights for any Academy member who had not been active for 7 years! And look what that did – brought in then unknown voices like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Frances Ford Coppola, transforming Hollywood, and ushering in what many consider to be a golden age in American cinema.

Daniella Isaacs

The above should have read "haven’t worked in filmmaking for the last ten years…"

Daniella Isaacs

Cutting out people who haven’t worked in filmmaking (does television count?) will take the votes away from people like David Lynch and John Waters (yes, both are members). I wonder how many other edgy artists who got into the academy but haven’t been able to sustain a regular work schedule in Hollywood will lose their votes.

Darrell lottie

Sounds very interesting

Jon

I agree anany to a certain extent. It definitely has to do with the casting of most movies as well as the people who vote for the nominations. And on a side note, the big short isn’t a biopic of any kind, it’s based off of a fictional book that’s based off of events that actually happen. Which is all the more reason they could’ve diversified the cast but I digress as I actually enjoyed all of the performances in that film.

DougW

Don’t old people have their dignity taken away enough already? Oh, you can still see the movies if the studios for some reason decide to keep sending you screeners, but we don’t want to know what you think.

Reign

I agree with Vieola. Buntington you are not qualified to speak when you clearly don’t understand. Ignorant 5 year old "feminist" get a degree then talk, when you have a PhD then talk to me or anyone in a discussion

Vieola

Don’t talk about what you don’t know. Stupid feminism, learn what it’s actually about first. And racism plays a huge part in the oscars

Anany

This is plainly the wrong approach. Academy members who have made substantial contributions to film should not have suspended voting rights simply because they not longer contribute. They have an expertise that people working in the industry do not truly exercise (because they have biases towards productions they are involved in seeking nominations and have strong ties with production companies or distributors). The problem is the casting process. Why were all of the main roles in ‘The Big Short’ written fir straight, white men? Is historical accuracy so important as it relates to people such that no woman or black or latino or Asian person could have played those lead roles? I don’t mean to pick TBS as a perfect example but the same argument can be applied to many of the movies this year. Hollywood is obsessed with making historical dramas. If they keep abiding by old prejudices towards minorities in casting those films for ‘historical accuracy’, they don’t help the cause, they continue the problem. The Academy’s membership is respected because of their contributions to cinema: women, ethnic minorities, LGBT people, etc. should not be handed token membership, they should have the opportunity to make great contributions to film, but that is not the case and Hollywood can hide behind the Oscars diverty issue as if it isn’t Hollywood itself that has created the issue.

Randy

I don’t believe this is targeted towards women. Ms. Isaacs is a woman, and I believe she was in full support of this. Also, over 74% (I believe) of the Academy are men. So as they let go of the older members and diversify the newer ones, the percentages should go up for both women and minorities.

Something had to be done. This organization is out of touch with our culture. It didn’t used to be this way.

This was the best step they could have taken. Only diversifying new members was going to take years and years to change the sensibilities of the Academy, overall. And people are living longer.

The Academy should represent working members in the industry (or people who have retired within the last 10 years). Not 80-90 year old white men who don’t bother to watch very many of the films, and are told what to vote for by their friends and family (in a lot of cases). Members who couldn’t even be bothered to see "Straight Outta Compton," or who can recognize that motion capture performances are acting performances.

Buntington is a Feminazi

Okay.. Just stop right there Buntington. That comment belongs to the membership board of hypocrisy. The academy is looking for diversity, not to single races, gender, religions. Men can have family’s too.

Lutaaya Peter

For sure things happen in life,getting to be a man it meanz you have to put in more power or effort to take of the people you love.It iz meaning when he iz off the world so let he what he haz worked for.

Lutaaya Peter

For things happen in life,getting to be a man it meanz you have to put in more power or effort to take of the people you love.It iz meaning when he iz off the world so let he what he haz worked for.

Filmguy490

Only time will tell what this will all mean but hopefully this is a step in the right direction for the Academy to dust away some of its old ways. The world is progressing right under the Academy’s feet and as people are starting to grow an interest and understanding of each others cultural history and backgrounds the Academy should broaden its membership to echo that. Think of how many actors that are dead and gone that would’ve loved to hear of this small change towards a major change, Dorothy Dandridge, Hattie Mcdaniel etc.. Things have to change.

Mary

You have this paragraph twice: "You work your…." …"

buntington

So, if a woman works and does well enough to be deemed eligible for Academy membership, but then has a family and doesn’t continue to work, she can be kicked out? This would never happen to a man and sounds sexist at a time they are encouraging diversity.

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