Justice

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs Responds to #OscarsSoWhite

Amid decisions to boycott the 88th annual Academy Award show from prominent members of Hollywood's Black elite, including actress Jada Pinkett Smith and director Spike Lee, the Academy responded late on Monday with a statement from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

"I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion," said Isaacs in response to the outpouring of frustration over the lack of racial diversity among the 2016 Oscar nominees. "This is a difficult but important conversation, and it's time for big changes."

But this conversation isn't new.

Although the Academy does not publish membership roles, many have pointed to the presumed whiteness of Oscar voters as the cause of the continued whiteness of its nominees. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times suggested that that Academy voters were overwhelmingly white (90 percent) and male (70 percent) after reviewing a document that confirmed the identities of the majority of its members.

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The Academy was also pushed to respond to similar criticism in 2015; just as with 2016's nominee group, all 20 contenders in the best actor category were white and few people of color were seen among the nominees in other branches.

At the time, Isaacs stated that although she would love to see more culturally diverse nominations, that the voting process was a confidential, defending it as a peer-driven undertaking: "There is not one central body or group of people that sit around the table and come up with nominations. It really is a peer-to-peer process."

What makes this year different?

While past responses from the Academy have included some degree of mea culpa for the continued absence of people of color from Academy nominations, this time the Academy is promising to confront the issue head-on.

"We need to do more, and better and more quickly," said Isaacs, promising a different future for the Oscars. "The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond."

Diversifying the 7,000-plus nominating committee seems like a large but straightforward task. But the Academy itself has made it more difficult in recent years to qualify as a member, further entrenching its largely white, male majority. The current guidelines require a prospective member to be vouched for by a current Academy member and often require a candidate to be a fairly recent Oscar nominee.

Will ending this insular club through a shift in membership policy be among Isaacs changes? We'll have to wait and see.