Film Academy Broadens Voting Pool After Oscars Criticism


“We have a goal here and are going to continue to work as hard as we can to meet that goal,” Ms. Isaacs said.

Should all those invited on Wednesday join the academy, this year’s 6,262 voters would climb to nearly 7,000. The prospective total voting membership appears to represent a new high for the academy, though it had more Oscar voters when nonmembers were permitted to cast ballots. That practice ended by the late 1950s.

The sudden broadening of the film academy is just one step in a process that must accelerate if the group is to meet its goals. An analysis by The New York Times of the academy’s acting branch showed that unit, which had about 1,100 members last year, would have to admit about 80 actors a year, and three women for every man, to reach approximate gender parity by 2020.

About 70 actors were invited this year, roughly half of them women. Virtually everyone invited to join the academy in past years has accepted, but exact membership rolls are not made public.

Once considered a strictly internal affair, academy membership has become the stuff of public debate and even public policy.

On Wednesday in New York, for instance, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment announced an unusual initiative, under which it intends to gather credentials of female and minority filmmakers from the New York area, then offer them as possible candidates for the academy’s next class of new members.

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John Boyega as Finn in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Credit
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

New York-area filmmakers can post their qualifications or those of others on a web portal that will carry the name and social media hashtag #NominateNYC and will be available through Nov. 15, and various Hollywood guilds and other professional organizations will be asked to consider recruiting from the pool. Academy officials were consulted about, but did not directly collaborate in, creating the New York outreach program, said Julie Menin, the city’s media and entertainment commissioner.

Whether academy members — generally protective of their right to say who qualifies for admission to the group — will respond to such pressure from the outside remains to be seen.

But Wednesday’s announcement suggested an abandoning of a sense of reserve — some would say clubbiness — that distinguished membership invitations in past years.

Less than a decade ago, academy officials were slashing annual invitations to as few as 115, in an attempt to raise the professional tone of the membership and to trim a group that was deemed too large when it hit 5,810 voters, and about 6,500 members including those with nonvoting emeritus status, in 2008.

Much larger numbers cast Oscar votes in the 1930s, when the academy sent ballots not just to its members, but to others in Hollywood’s guilds as well.

Whether this year’s nearly 700 invitees represent a record number is unclear. In its 1947 annual report, the academy said it had doubled membership to 1,600 from 800 in a year. But those new members were not all invited at once.

But the new list appears likely to yield record high membership, even allowing for the typical levels of attrition through death or voluntary election of emeritus status, and the impact — expected to be minimal — of a mandated purge of inactive members.

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Vivica A. Fox in “Independence Day: Resurgence.”

Credit
Claudette Barius/20th Century Fox, via Associated Press

The academy branches, which represent various crafts — including writers, actors and costume designers — are expected to complete reviews of member activity later this summer. Some branches have indicated an intention to cut few or no members, according to people briefed on the plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality strictures.

Famous black actors who were invited included Chadwick Boseman, John Boyega and Vivica A. Fox. The white actors Andrew Garfield and Brie Larson, who won the Oscar for best actress for “Room” this year, were also invited, as were the Asian actors Daniel Dae Kim and Byung-hun Lee, and Luis Guzmán, who is Hispanic.

Ice Cube, a founding member of the rap group N.W.A., whose rise to fame was dramatized in the film “Straight Outta Compton” — which was praised by critics and audiences but failed to gain a nomination for best picture this year — was another invitee.

The academy’s directors branch appears to be poised for some of the biggest changes. The branch, which consisted of fewer than 400 filmmakers last year, invited about 90 new members, including Ana Lily Amirpour (“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”), Mary Harron (“The Notorious Bettie Page”), Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”), and Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The “Matrix” trilogy, “Cloud Atlas”).

Notable invitees to the executives branch were James and Lachlan Murdoch, who have assumed increased authority over 20th Century Fox from their father, Rupert Murdoch.

In the decade preceding those back-to-back snubs, academy members had nominated and given awards to a number of black actors, including Jamie Foxx, who won the best actor Oscar for his performance in “Ray,” and Lupita Nyong’o, who won best supporting actress in 2014 for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” which was that year’s best picture.

But within days of the nominations being announced, academy officials, facing intense public criticism, promised to restructure their group, with an eye toward creating a more diverse voting pool and governing board.

At the same time, Ms. Isaacs, the academy’s president, and Dawn Hudson, its chief executive, urged members to find a diverse field of new recruits, many of whom appeared on Wednesday’s list of invitees.

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