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Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Invites New Members


Oscar's so white - that has been a lot of people's reaction to the Academy Awards. And all that criticism is getting the Academy's attention. Every year they invite new people to join as members and vote on the Oscars. And this year they invited a much more diverse list of people than before. But with the demographics of the academy as they stand, this new group will just barely change the overall numbers.

I talked to Darnell Hunt about this. He helps write the "Hollywood Diversity Report" for UCLA, and he explained why this matters.

DARNELL HUNT: Well, the membership of course determines who gets nominated and who ultimately gets the award. So Oscars so white, at least in that sense, is a reflection of the membership. It also goes back to the industry as a whole, too, in terms of what's making. But we can we can talk more about that.

MCEVERS: So what do you think about this announcement that they are inviting new members? I mean, does it feel like they're making a real effort here?

MCEVERS: Well, let's make no mistake about. I mean clearly the Academy is feeling the heat. I mean, the Oscars so white movement the last two years has certainly put this issue on the front burner for a lot of people. And the Academy is facing a difficult situation. I mean, they're kind of stuck with a membership that's largely white male, 6,000-plus members.

And so if you add new members, the rate at which that minority share or the woman share is going to shift over time is going to be relatively slow given the fact that there are so many white men currently in the academy.

So the question is, what do you do with all of the members who are already there who don't look like America even as you're adding in new cohorts of members who are more diverse like this new cohort?

MCEVERS: Is there anything about this new list of members that sticks out to you - any names or faces that you think are worth note?

HUNT: Yeah, I mean, I think all of the new members are qualified to be there. I know that there's been some criticism about whether or not the net was cast too widely. Some of the people may be known better for their work in television or in theater or in other areas other than film, but one of the points I like to make is that, really, the lines are blurring between different types of platforms these days. So I applaud the decision to, you know, introduce this incredibly diverse class of people with a range of different types of credits.

MCEVERS: You know, I wonder if somebody's listening might think, oh, what's the big deal? I mean, it's just the awards. I mean, the real issue is, like, who's making this stuff, right? Who's behind the camera? Who's - who are the actors, you know? That's where the industry needs to be more reflective of society as a whole, right?

HUNT: Well, it's not an either-or. You could argue that the Academy Awards are just about celebrating certain levels of achievement and individuals winning awards and that what's really driving the process is what Hollywood chooses to make.

But it's all connected because films that get recognized as outstanding in terms of their artistic merit are the types of films the studios often want to make. And if all those films only feature white men in the lead, if they only have white male directors, then those become the signature projects that studios tend to greenlight and, more importantly, with a certain type of budget.


HUNT: When other types of films are presented, they're to be met with suspicion, so it becomes this vicious cycle that we have to break out of if we're going to get to a point where the industry itself is making things that are more reflective of America.

MCEVERS: That's Darnell Hunt. He directs the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. Thank you very much.

HUNT: Thank you.

MCEVERS: And we should say we asked the Academy for an interview with the president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs. They turned us down. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.