On June 29, 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists invited a record 683 new members to join its ranks in an effort to follow through on its promise to address the organization’s lack of diversity. This development occurred at a surprisingly swift pace given that a mere 4 months ago, a handful of minority actors – Will Smith and Jada Pinket among them – boycotted the Oscars, while others like comedian Kevin Hart opted to attend in a show of support for Chris Rock, who was this year’s host. In the midst of awkward Stacey Dash jokes, Rock’s continued references to the elephant in the room and the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag catching fire on social media, it would have been easy enough to dismiss the Academy’s pledge for change as nothing but lip service.
In a statement released earlier this year, the Academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, admitted to being “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion…In the coming days and weeks,” she continued, “we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.” Yesterday’s development is a positive first step in that direction. 46% of the new members invited are female (increasing the overall number to 27%) and 41% are people of color (now representing an overall 11% of the Academy). 283 new international members were introduced from 59 countries. 24 year old British-Nigerian actor John Boyega is currently the youngest member.
Many new inductees were surprised to learn of their inclusion, particularly because they bypassed the rigorous application process which sometimes stretches on for years. Of particular interest to this blog’s audience is the inclusion of Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé (Yeleen, The Wind), Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima (Sankofa, Ashes and Embers), and American filmmaker Julie Dash, whose first feature Daughters of the Dust made a mark as the first full-length film by an African-American woman with general theatrical release in the United States 25 years ago.
While astounded by the number of veterans and past Oscar winners who are only now being invited to sit at the table, it’s also heartening to note the presence of a younger generation of talent who are, as we speak, proving their worth in large ways. Among them are Ryan Coogler (Creed), Dee Rees (Pariah), Nate Parker (Birth of a Nation), John Boyega (Star Wars), Adepero Oduye (Pariah), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Tessa Thompson (Mississippi Damned) and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) just to name a few. Past African Artists’ Association guest speaker Effie Brown (Project Greenlight) made the cut along with Idris Elba (Long Walk to Freedom), Amma Asante (Belle), Cheryl Dunye (Watermelon Woman), Keenan Ivory Wayans (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka), Marlon Wayans (Requiem for a Dream) and Anthony Anderson (The Departed).
While the Academy’s move is an encouraging one, the fight for diversity and inclusion is far from over. Many were quick to point out that Asian actors, members of the LGBT community and artists with disabilities were nowhere to be seen. Actress Brie Larson stated on Twitter that she’d use her vote to “nominate talent that reflects the real world we live in,” while America Ferrera acknowledged that she was part of a “mission to create more space and more opportunity for more voices.” In any case, there’s a sense of hope that we will be seeing some real change in the near future.
To view the full list of 2016 members, visit the Academy website: http://www.app.oscars.org/class2016/
Author: Constance Ejuma is an award-winning actress and producer. She’s also a current member of The3As board and spearheaded the launch of this site’s blog. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.