Maybe all of our griping and organizing around the lack of people of color awarded by the Academy is finally paying off. Maybe.
A few days ago, I sat in a room full of activists as they worked their way through a variety of issues that occur in their spaces. One of these was the challenge of avoiding exhaustion and complete burnout due to the constant fighting for a cause and, ultimately, feeling like you’re tallying up far fewer wins than losses.
My thinking on this problem is that the effects of social activism usually can’t be quantified until much later on. By trying to change an entire world’s thinking on certain issues, there’s no sort of instant gratification involved. A leader could spend their entire career fighting for equality and not see any significant change until years, or even decades, later.
Well, we’ve finally got a legitimate win worth celebrating in the present. And instead of looking back and appreciating it in hindsight, we should take this rare opportunity to enjoy a morale boost.
This past January, #OscarsSoWhite regained new life after the Academy responded to a year of mostly-white nominees with another list of nominees that was even more shockingly old, white and male. It was then revealed that most of the Academy’s members were just that, and their failure to reflect a changing landscape in film on the awards stage was directly connected to that. Members of Hollywood’s elite then started to speak out and the SAG awards later cleaned house by showing what a diverse awards ceremony should look like.
After months of bad press and promises to help diversify its’ membership, the Academy has come through much sooner and laser focused than most would’ve imagined by sending out a record-breaking 638 invitations to prospective members. Out of those, an also record-breaking 46% of invitees were women and 41% were people of color. Among them are Idris Elba, Nate Parker, Mary J. Blige, Michael B. Jordan and America Ferrera and 283 international members from 59 countries. O’Shea Jackson Jr. was also invited, which is wonderful given the complete mishandling of Straight Outta Compton‘s nomination process, which only saw acknowledgement for the all-white writing staff with the cast not even receiving an invitation to attend the event.
“This class continues our long-term commitment to welcoming extraordinary talent reflective of those working in film today,” Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs wrote in a statement. “We encourage the larger creative community to open its doors wider, and create opportunities for anyone interested in working in this incredible and storied industry.”
In the long run, if all of the invitees accept, the Academy’s numbers will take a modest bump, with women’s representation jumping from 25% to 27% and people of color jumping from 8% to 11%, according to USA Today. But this is a far better approach than the original plan of slowly bringing in a more diverse population as the old guard makes their way out over the next decade or so.
“(We) know they view this as an opportunity and not just an invitation, a mission and not just a membership,” said Boone Isaacs.
These actions are all part of a plan to double the number of women and people of color among the organization’s ranks by 2020. When this was first announced it seemed like another empty promise given during a public relations catastrophe that likely wouldn’t come to fruition. But Boone’s leadership appears to be leading to a future where a diverse Academy is actually possible. This is a win we can enjoy in the now. But, clearly, more work needs to be done.
Photo: Wiki Commons