Oscars 2012: Could this idea make the academy more diverse?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, responding to a study by the Los Angeles Times, said it wants to diversify its ranks. But it won’t be easy.
The Times study, which identified more than 5,100 active, voting academy members, found that they are 94% white, 77% male and have a median age of 62. Only 2% of the members are younger than 40, while more than half are 60 and older.
Times columnist Patrick Goldstein suggested on Tuesday that giving veteran Oscar members a different, non-voting status might help skew the academy’s demographics younger. He wrote:
For example, if you haven't had a credit in 25 years, you'd become an emeritus member, which would entitle you to all the perks the academy offers, minus the voting. Currently, approximately 5% of the voting membership is over age 85. If they were put on emeritus status, that would presumably open up the membership rolls to a younger, more vital constituency.
We tested the hypothesis, assuming that the academy would take its diversity pledge to an extreme.
Times database wizard Doug Smith pulled up the paper’s Oscar voter rolls and followed Goldstein’s suggestion, removing all voters 85 and older, about 300 members. Smith then replaced them with imaginary non-white women aged 50 -- the median age of all new members invited to join the academy since 2004 (that's the year the academy started publicly announcing its invitees).
Such a switch would leave the academy looking like this: 83% white, about 73% male and with a median age of 61. If the emeritus status began at age 80-- a change that would take away the voting rights of this year's best supporting actor winner Christopher Plummer, age 82--the voters would be 82% white, 68% male and have a median age of 59.
Some Oscar nominees said Sunday the academy needs to change and not just chalk things up to a lack of homogeneity in the film industry.
Asked if the academy is only as diverse as the industry, "The Help's" lead actress nominee Viola Davis said, “I don't think that that's what Hollywood is. I think that's probably just something the academy says.”
George Clooney, nominated for lead actor from “The Descendants,” said he was hopeful that the organization would become more diverse. “That'd be a good idea, don't ya think?” he joked. “You can look at the Senate and it's roughly the same thing. I don't think to diversify is ever a bad idea.”
But how is that going to happen? “It's a tricky thing, because you actually have to open it up to more,” Clooney said, “as opposed to trying to keep people out, instead of taking their cards away.”
--John Horn and Amy Kaufman
Photo: Christopher Plummer at the 84th Academy Awards. Credit: Matt Sayles/Associated Press