After years of criticism over the lack of diversity among Oscar nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted unanimously Thursday night to approve a series of changes aimed at making its membership and its voting body more diverse.
Their goal is to double "the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020," according to the statement issued by the Academy on Friday.
"The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up," said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”
In a rule to be implemented later this year, "each new member's voting status will last 10 years and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade," the statement reads. The press release did not specify what stipulates as "active" participation by the voting members.
Members will be granted lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms, or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. These new standards will be applied retroactively to current members. In addition, members who don't qualify for active status will be moved to "emeritus status," a designation that allows all privileges of membership — such as meet-and-greets with Oscar nominees and screeners of nominated films — except the right to vote.
Whether the new measures will actually reap real change is yet unknown, as gaining membership still has its hurdles. Those who want to join the Academy must be sponsored by two existing members of the mostly white Academy; or they must be nominated for an Oscar, which has proven difficult for filmmakers and actors of color for years. To combat this dilemma, the Academy will launch a campaign to "recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity."
These recent changes set forth by the Academy bear semblance to an initiative former Academy president Gregory Peck implemented in 1970, in which "those who had not worked actively in film-making for seven years" lost their right to vote. It is unclear if Peck's approach succeeded in diversifying the Academy's membership during his time; the evolution of that rule — so that now members must be active within 10 years instead of seven — is also uncertain. BuzzFeed News has reached out to the Academy for clarification.
Recruiting more women and filmmakers and actors of color to the Academy plus withdrawing voting power from long-inactive members may allow for works by and featuring people of color to be nominated and perhaps have better odds at winning. And if films by people of color receive Academy recognition, the industry could be more inclined to hire more women and people of color and to create
"diverse" narratives, stymying another year of #OscarsSoWhite.