Responding for the first time to the firestorm of criticism over the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations, film academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs says the all-white acting slate inspires her to accelerate the academy’s push to be more inclusive. She also hopes the film industry as a whole will continue to strive for greater diversity.
The first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences spoke out Friday night in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press about the Oscar nominations and the widespread criticism that followed.
The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition issued a statement Friday saying the nominations balloting “obviously reflects a lack of diversity in Oscar voters as well as in films generally.”
Yet Boone Isaacs insisted the academy is “committed to seeking out diversity of voice and opinion” and that outreach to women and artists of color is a major focus.
“In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” Boone Isaacs said. “And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”
A 2012 survey by the Los Angeles Times found the academy was 94 percent white, overwhelmingly male and with a median age of 62. A more recent survey determined the percentage of older white males had dropped by one point, the Times said. But with nearly 7,000 members and no requirement to retire, diversity is going to take some time.
Boone Isaacs declined to address whether she and the academy were embarrassed by the slate of white Oscar nominees, instead insisting that she’s proud of the nominees, all of whom deserved recognition.
She explained that while each branch comes up with its own criteria for excellence and each nominates its colleagues, all voting is individual and confidential.
For instance, only directors can suggest best director nominees and only actors can nominate actors. But the entire academy membership can submit suggestions for best picture.
“There is not one central body or group of people that sit around the table and come up with nominations,” she said. “It really is a peer-to-peer process.”
With all the accolades the civil rights drama “Selma” has received since its Christmas opening, some felt its failure to garner nominations for director Ava DuVernay or star David Oyelowo reflected a racial bias.
“What is important not to lose sight of is that ‘Selma,’ which is a fantastic motion picture, was nominated for best picture this year, and the best picture category is voted on by the entire membership of around 7,000 people,” Boone Isaacs said.
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