Looking at the new list of members for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, there are a lot of big-name actors. Movie stars like Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher”) join recent nominees Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) and Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”).
But there are arguably even bigger names: Riz Ahmed. Donald Glover. Keegan-Michael Key. Rami Malek. Kate McKinnon. Sarah Paulson.
On the Academy’s official announcement, each actor’s name is followed by the films cited for their inclusion. For Ahmed, it’s “Nightcrawler;” Glover, “The Martian;” Key, “Don’t Think Twice;” Malek,”Short Term 12;” McKinnon, “Office Christmas Party,” and Paulson, “12 Years a Slave.” Almost all of these are excellent films (“Office Christmas Party,” looking at you), but do you associate these people with those projects?
Or do you think about Ahmed’s outstanding turn in “The Night Of”; Glover’s groundbreaking work in “Atlanta” (or his endearing performance on “Community”), Key’s landmark sketch series, “Key & Peele,” Malek’s award-winning turn in “Mr. Robot,” McKinnon’s jaw-dropping transformations on “SNL,” and Paulson’s ongoing domination of TV in roles courtesy of mega-producer Ryan Murphy?
Being better known for one role than another doesn’t negate the quality of work, but these inclusions illustrate a major point of contention between the TV and film worlds: TV offers a more diverse landscape, and the Academy doesn’t want to talk about it.
Much has been made of the #OscarsSoWhite protests, and the Academy now actively works to diversify its member base. This year saw an increase in the percentage of women (39 percent, up from 28 percent in 2016) and people of color (30 percent) among the record-breaking number of new members. Since 2015, there’s a 331 percent increase in people of color asked to join the Academy.
However, many of these stars may not be considered for admission without finding success in television. That the Academy refuses to recognize this, instead choosing to invoke comparisons between a quickly forgotten studio Christmas movie and the 2014 Best Picture winner, feels disingenuous to the actors. (If not, where’s T.J. Miller’s invitation, AMPAS?) The class of 2017 knows the amazing work they’ve done, and (hopefully) they know they deserve to be there, right alongside the rest of the Academy members.
If the film academy has to dip into the deep well of television talent to find the most accomplished women and people of color in the industry, by all means. A diverse voting body and its wide-ranging benefits are far more important that silly squabbles over which medium best supports its stars, as is maintaining the honor of an institution built on the most respected industry talents paying tribute to their peers.
However, it would be better if the film industry was as inclusive as the little brother that AMPAS refuses to acknowledge.