The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that votes for the Oscars, is nearly 94 percent white and 77 percent male, according to a Los Angeles Times study published Sunday. Blacks are about 2 percent of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2 percent.
In some sub-branches the racial disparities are even higher. The executives and writers groups, for example, are 98 percent white. And all of this year’s five nominated directors are white men, and none of the 21 producers of the nine best picture nominees is a person of color.
The Times spent several months investigating who was part of the closely guarded and secret roster list of academy voters. Times reporters confirmed the identities of more than 5,100 Oscar voters – more than 89 percent of all active voting members – and found that they are mostly white, male and have a median age of 62.
To conduct the study, Times reporters spoke with thousands of academy members and their representatives – and reviewed academy publications, resumes and biographies – to confirm the identities of more than 5,100 voters – more than 89% of the voting members. Those interviews revealed varying opinions about the academy’s race, sex and age breakdown: Some members see it simply as a mirror of hiring patterns in Hollywood, while others say it reflects the group’s mission to recognize achievement rather than promote diversity. Many said the academy should be much more representative.
The Times found that some of the academy’s 15 branches are almost exclusively white and male. Caucasians currently make up 90% or more of every academy branch except actors, whose roster is 88% white. The academy’s executive branch is 98% white, as is its writers branch.
Men compose more than 90% of five branches, including cinematography and visual effects. Of the academy’s 43-member board of governors, six are women; public relations executive Cheryl Boone Isaacs is the sole person of color.
There are three ways to become a candidate for membership in the academy: land an Oscar nomination; apply and receive a recommendation from two members of a branch; or earn an endorsement from the branch’s membership committee or the academy staff.
The membership committees then vote on the candidates and those who get a majority are invited to join.
(If the academy wanted to, they could endorse people like “Pariah” director Dee Rees–even though she’s never been nominated for an Oscar and has only directed one film–her work has been honored at dozens of film festivals, awards ceremonies and has been financially successful.)
“I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for,” Frank Pierson, a former academy president who won an Oscar for original screenplay for “Dog Day Afternoon” in 1976, and who still serves on the board of governors, told the Times.
“We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it,” Pierson said.
“If the country is 12% black, make the academy 12% black,” Denzel Washington told the Times. “If the nation is 15% Hispanic, make the academy 15% Hispanic. Why not?”
Academy member Bill Duke, a black actor and director, told the Times he sees little being done to change things: “The black community sees the academy as an entity that ignores the needs, wants, desires and representation of black directors, producers, actors and writers. Whether it is true or not, that is how it’s perceived – as an elitist group with no concern or regard for the minority community and industry. And there doesn’t seem to be any desire to change that perception.”
The academy blames the industry for their lack of diversity.
“We absolutely recognize that we need to do a better job,” writer-director Phil Alden Robinson, a longtime academy governor, told the Times. But “we start off with one hand tied behind our back…. If the industry as a whole is not doing a great job in opening up its ranks, it’s very hard for us to diversify our membership.”
The academy organizes a program called Streetlights, a job training and placement group that works to promote ethnic diversity in Hollywood. While the program can financially propel those individuals who complete the program it will would take years if not decades for those individuals to be invited or even qualify to apply to be part of the academy.