They’re star­ring in the acad­emy’s di­verse se­quel

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Josh Rot­ten­berg

It’s one of the key rules of Hol­ly­wood: The se­quel al­ways has to be big­ger.

On Wed­nes­day, in its lat­est step to­ward di­ver­si­fy­ing the over­whelm­ingly white and male in­sti­tu­tion, the Acad­emy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sciences opened its doors to its largest-ever class of new mem­bers. A whop­ping 774 in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als were in­vited to join the nearly 90-year-old or­ga­ni­za­tion — top­ping last year’s record-set­ting class of 683 in­vi­tees, which it­self was up sharply from 322 the pre­vi­ous year.

Rang­ing in age from 19year-old Elle Fan­ning to 95year-old Betty White, the group of in­vi­tees in­cluded such bold­faced names as Kris­ten Ste­wart, Dwayne John­son, Gal Gadot, Jor­dan Peele and Barry Jenk­ins, who di­rected the best pic­ture-win­ning “Moon­light,” as well as many ac­tors, film­mak­ers and be­low-the-line pro­fes­sion­als whose names would be un­fa­mil­iar to even the most die-hard cinephile.

In Jan­uary 2016, a sec­ond year of the #Os­carsSoWhite firestorm led the acad­emy to pub­licly an­nounce an ini­tia­tive to dou­ble the num­ber of women and mi­nori­ties in its

ranks — then about 1,500 and 535, re­spec­tively — by 2020.

But even with the big names and num­bers, the over­all change in the de­mo­graph­ics of the acad­emy has been in­cre­men­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to the acad­emy’s fig­ures, this class is 39% fe­male (298 women), which brings the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in the or­ga­ni­za­tion from 27% to 28%. Thirty per­cent (232) are peo­ple of color, bring­ing mi­nori­ties’ share of to­tal mem­ber­ship from 11% to 13%.

Last July, The Times es­ti­mated the acad­emy would need to add 85 peo­ple of color and 395 women to its ranks per year to reach its tar­gets. This class demon­strates the chal­lenge the acad­emy faces in meet­ing its goals, es­pe­cially in fe­male mem­ber­ship.

In a land­mark 2012 anal­y­sis, The Times re­ported that Os­car vot­ers were 94% white and 77% male, and, even with the two most re­cent classes — last year’s group of in­vi­tees, which the acad­emy touted as its most di­verse ever, was 46% fe­male and 41% peo­ple of color — those num­bers have shifted only a few per­cent­age points.

The two most re­cent classes have dwarfed the classes of years past, which were lim­ited by quo­tas and tended to come in at closer to 100 in­vi­tees, dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing the over­all size of the acad­emy. If all of this year’s in­vi­tees join the or­ga­ni­za­tion, the to­tal mem­ber­ship will swell to 8,427, a size that some fear could soon be­come un­wieldy and cause acad­emy mem­ber­ship to lose some of its feel­ing of ex­clu­siv­ity.

But for those who re­ceived the word of their in­vi­ta­tion Wed­nes­day, it car­ried a sense of honor and val­i­da­tion.

“I view the acad­emy in­vi­ta­tion as a gi­ant warm hug from my peers,” film pro­ducer Mel Es­lyn told The Times af­ter learn­ing she had made the cut for this year’s class. “Be­ing part of the acad­emy, to me, means in­clu­sion, es­pe­cially when look­ing at the di­ver­sity that's rep­re­sented in this year's class.”

Other names on the list in­clude ac­tors John Cho, Shai­lene Wood­ley, Chan­ning Ta­tum, Chris Evans and Priyanka Cho­pra and di­rec­tors Guy Ritchie, Jo­ce­lyn Moor­house and Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky.

The #Os­carsSoWhite furor has abated some­what since last year’s Acad­emy Awards, which saw Jenk­ins’ “Moon­light” — a po­etic com­ing-of-age story about a gay African Amer­i­can youth grow­ing up in Mi­ami — take home the best pic­ture prize. In re­cent months, in­creased scru­tiny has turned to­ward the chal­lenges the acad­emy faces in its ef­forts to build an am­bi­tious film mu­seum in Los An­ge­les and ru­mors of be­hind-the-scenes fric­tion among the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lead­ers.

But in an in­ter­view fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ment, acad­emy Pres­i­dent Ch­eryl Boone Isaacs said that the or­ga­ni­za­tion has no in­ten­tion of los­ing mo­men­tum in its cam­paign to be­come more in­clu­sive.

“It can al­ways hap­pen that an or­ga­ni­za­tion can set some goals and then the in­ter­est can start to wane a bit — we’ve all been in those sit­u­a­tions,” said Boone Isaacs, who is near­ing the end of her fi­nal term as pres­i­dent. “But that’s not some­thing we’re go­ing to ac­cept. Ev­ery­one, from lead­er­ship to our staff to our mem­bers, are all do­ing what we were hop­ing they’d do: look­ing around to find qual­i­fied peo­ple who are not in the acad­emy al­ready.”

Given un­der­ly­ing in­equities in the film in­dus­try as a whole, how­ever, the chal­lenge of find­ing qual­i­fied peo­ple from di­verse back­grounds may grow more dif­fi­cult. A 2016 re­port by the USC An­nen­berg School for Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Jour­nal­ism out­lined an “in­clu­sion cri­sis” at the ma­jor stu­dios, where di­rec­tors are 97% male and 87% white, while women hold 21% of top ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions and non­white ac­tors earn just 27% of speak­ing roles.

And what shifts have oc­curred have not been evenly dis­trib­uted across the acad­emy’s var­i­ous branches, re­veal­ing un­der­ly­ing in­equities in hir­ing in dif­fer­ent seg­ments of the in­dus­try.

While the ex­ec­u­tive branch was one of seven branches this year to in­vite more women than men, for ex­am­ple, that branch — whose mem­bers hold the most sway over the kinds of movies that Hol­ly­wood makes — re­mains pre­dom­i­nantly male.

(The other branches that in­vited more women than men this year are ac­tors, cast­ing di­rec­tors, cos­tume de­sign­ers, pro­duc­tion de­sign­ers, doc­u­men­tary and film edi­tors.)

Given the un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women and mi­nori­ties in Hol­ly­wood, some have ex­pressed doubt that the acad­emy can hit its di­ver­sity tar­gets with­out low­er­ing its mem­ber­ship re­quire­ments, which man­dates that can­di­dates for mem­ber­ship must have “demon­strated ex­cep­tional achieve­ment in the field of the­atri­cal mo­tion pic­tures.” In an in­ter­view with The Times in 2016, former acad­emy Pres­i­dent Hawk Koch called the acad­emy’s goals “im­pos­si­ble” to reach, say­ing, “There aren’t that many qual­i­fied peo­ple, pe­riod, of any race or gen­der, to in­vite each year.”

In the last two years, the acad­emy has opened its doors to a num­ber of peo­ple who have only come onto the scene in the last few years or who may be bet­ter known for their work in TV than in film, such as this year’s new in­vi­tees Kate McKin­non, Les­lie Jones, Maya Ru­dolph, Molly Shan­non and Amy Poehler, all of whom are veter­ans of “Satur­day Night Live,” Rami Malek, who stars on the USA se­ries “Mr. Ro­bot,” and tele­vi­sion stal­wart White.

But even as the bound­ary be­tween film and tele­vi­sion con­tin­ues to blur, the acad­emy lead­er­ship has con­sis­tently main­tained it will not al­ter the cri­te­ria for mem­ber­ship. Acad­emy CEO Dawn Hud­son says she is con­fi­dent that there are still many qual­i­fied film in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als who have yet to be brought into the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“There are so many artists who were not ad­mit­ted in the past be­cause we had a limit on how many new mem­bers we in­vited each year,” Hud­son told The Times in an in­ter­view last month. “So with the elim­i­na­tion of those [quo­tas] and the ag­gres­sive pur­suit of ex­cel­lence by all of our mem­bers, I think we will be able to ex­pand in a more in­clu­sive way for sev­eral years.”

To help broaden the pool of pos­si­ble can­di­dates, the acad­emy has reached far

out­side of Los An­ge­les. The new class in­cludes mem­bers from 57 coun­tries around the world.

“We re­ally are com­mit­ted to mak­ing this an or­ga­ni­za­tion for in­ter­na­tional artists,” Hud­son said. “There are so many artists in the world who we had over­looked in the past. So, lucky us, we get to make an ef­fort to in­vite them in.”

Even as it has worked to al­ter the de­mo­graph­ics of its own mem­ber­ship, the acad­emy has taken steps to boost di­ver­sity across the film busi­ness. In June, the or­ga­ni­za­tion an­nounced a new in­dus­try-wide sum­mer in­tern­ship and men­tor­ing pro­gram called Acad­emy Gold aimed at broad­en­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents and young pro­fes­sion­als from un­der­rep­re­sented com­mu­ni­ties.

But, even as the acad­emy touts fig­ures show­ing the in­creased di­ver­sity of its mem­ber­ship, Boone Isaacs said that the is­sue of in­clu­sion should not be sim­ply re­duced to a se­ries of statis­tics and lines on a graph.

“This isn’t about num­bers,” she said. “This is about what is right. This is about rec­og­niz­ing who we all are and what we have to con­trib­ute to this art form.”

In­deed, for those who re­ceive word that they have been in­vited to join the film in­dus­try’s most pres­ti­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion, it’s a very per­sonal — and of­ten highly emo­tional — mo­ment.

“When I found out, I was jump­ing for joy,” said di­rec­tor Ch­eryl Dunye, who was in­vited to join the acad­emy last year. “It’s like get­ting the Golden Ticket in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Fac­tory.’ … It was like, ‘This is It. You stick around long enough and they’ll give you the keys.’ ”

josh.rot­ten­berg @la­times.com Times staff writers Tre’vell An­der­son and Mark Olsen con­trib­uted to this re­port.

KRIS­TEN STE­WART

AC­TORS AND di­rec­tors among the 774 in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als in­vited to join Hol­ly­wood’s most exclusive club.

Los An­ge­les Times

Pho­to­graphs by Los An­ge­les Times and Getty Im­ages

AMANDA SEYFRIED

GAL GADOT

D O NA L D GLOVER

NAOMIE HAR­RIS

JOHN CHO

ELLE FAN­NING

JOR­DAN PEELE

CHRIS PRATT

RUTH NEGGA

IR­RFAN KHAN

B A R RY JENK­INS

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

MO­TION PIC­TURE ACAD­EMY Pres­i­dent Ch­eryl Boone Isaacs says of her or­ga­ni­za­tion’s di­ver­sity push, “This isn’t about num­bers. This is about what is right.”

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