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Why is Oscar So White?

Once again the Oscar nominations are out, and once again it seems the movie industry is openly demonstrating racism by not including a single actor or actress or color, in either a leading role or a supporting role. Nominations are submitted by people who work in the categories they nominate – actors nominate actors, producers nominate producers, etc. So why, with so many actors of color working in film, do we get an entirely white slate of nominees?

The answer is history has created an enormous bias, but it can be easily corrected, if the industry wants to. The nominating members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences amount to about 6000 folks. To be a member, you have to have enough screen credit to be allowed in by the existing membership. The current breakdown tells the tale. 94% are white. 76% are male. The average age is 63. So how is it that 3000 members are over 63 and only 3000 are under 63, when new actors get on screen every day, and old actors die every day?

Up through the 1960’s, studios signed actors for multiple picture contracts. Once you were signed, you could expect at least two films a year for many years running. Since the 1980’s, studios no longer sign such contracts. Actors are all free agents, and roles are open to competition. So a lot more actors under 63 have appeared in one or two films, and a disproportionate number of older actors have dozens of films to their credit that they made decades ago.

Given this pattern, it is no wonder we have the membership demographics we have today.

The solution is to open up membership to actors who have shown their commitment to the craft, but not wait until they have multiple films released. I do not know enough about how the industry sees itself to propose a simple formula, but if the Academy wants to be taken seriously, they need to fix the membership demographics immediately. The membership needs to reflect the people who actually work in film, not just the ones that have the biggest track record.

 

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Categories: Politics, Writing
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