Why the Academy’s Diversity Push Is Tougher Than It Thinks

Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes, New York Times, February 5, 2016

Roughly 87 percent are white. About 58 percent are male. As many as two-thirds are at least 60 years old.

As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences scrambles to address an outcry over a lack of diversity among its membership, a close look of its largest group, the actors branch, shows that ending the imbalance within its ranks might be more difficult than, say, predicting the annual Oscar winners.

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But an examination by The New York Times of the actors branch–whose more than 1,100 members control acting nominations for the Academy Awards–revealed the basic racial outlines of the group. Using public and private databases, The Times compiled data on nearly 1,100 acting branch members. Along with the white members, about 6 percent are black, under 4 percent are Hispanic and less than 2 percent are Asian. Women make up about 42 percent of the branch. A spokeswoman for the academy confirmed all of those percentages.

The academy has stated that its aim is to double the number of minorities in its overall membership by 2020. Yet, as it tries to remake itself by recruiting younger and more diverse members and jettisoning those no longer active in the business, it is confronting new challenges. There are protests that it is being unfair to older actors, worries that it could simply be creating different diversity issues in the future and criticism from those within its ranks who do not want to use categories like race, age or gender as any kind of organizing principle.

Over the next five years, the academy would have to annually add about 14 black actors and at least nine actors who were either Asian or Hispanic to double the number of acting branch members in those ethnic groups. That would account for almost all of the slots if it invited 25 actors, which is how many were offered membership last year.

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There were 6,261 academy members throughout its various branches according to an annual tabulation it released on Dec. 14. Its official actors count–1,138 voters, plus 126 academy retirees, who do not vote–may have been trimmed by recent deaths like that of Abe Vigoda.

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The academy is trimming its rolls, largely to limit voting rights to those who are active in the business. Last month, the academy said it would begin a year-round membership recruiting effort aimed at diversity, while also culling members who have not worked on a film for 10 years, or have not been active during three separate decades. Anyone who has won or been nominated for an Oscar is excluded from those requirements.

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While the percentage of black actors among last year’s invitees–three were invited, or roughly 12 percent–approached their share of the United States population, the percentage of women invited was much lower. Seven were invited, or 28 percent of the total, while women make up 51 percent of the population. The year before, six women were among the 20 actors invited, or 30 percent of the total. In some recent years, none of the invitees were Asian or Hispanic.

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