Academy's Rush to Judgement
“Lifetime voting rights reframed” is how the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences positions their fast track reaction to the rage over the very real lack of diversity in Oscar nominations.
Affirmative action measures announced after a secret meeting of the Board of Governors may turn out to be the tonic the Academy needs to save its reputation and show. It may also be a win for some yet to be identified women and people of color (who otherwise might not qualify) who will get to join the prestigious organization, famous for its restrictive admission polities.
But in the same way cold water in the face feels shocking, it is a very real and surprising loss to those among the 6,000 older (mostly white) members who may lose their right to vote on the awards. They have been dues paying members for years and in many cases have given a great deal to the industry.
Most of them are the same nice men and women, political liberals and people of good faith, who voted for 12 Years A Slave for Best Picture and for many other movies with diverse casts and performers of color over the years. They have worked hard to honor the very best movies the industry has offered the public each year, and they are almost always color blind when it comes to awards. They simply search for the best stories, performances, direction and production.
Now, they feel dissed, angry and upset that a promise of lifetime membership has just been yanked away without so much as an open meeting for discussion, and certainly without a vote of the entire membership. Does that make these longtime members racist? Bad people who deserve to be banished?
Or are they victims of reverse discrimination?
The subtext of this is that the Academy leaders believe the older white members won’t vote for movies with largely minority casts and values; if there are less of them, the new minority members' votes will mean that much more.
In reality, there is no assurance of that. What is assured, is that the minority members will vote for the actors and movies they think are best; some years, they may still be mostly white because many of the movies in our culture are “white.”
The industry is the real villain for not making more worthwhile pictures with casts that look like people in real life. The Academy’s executive director Dawn Hudson and president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and others have been moving to make the staid institution more diverse and the idea of speeding up the process is a good one. However, the question is, does that mean taking away rights from some?
Many of the older white members who are not going to qualify under the new rules – and thus no longer eligible to vote for awards - are movie loving baby boomers. They got into this because of their love of movies. Many have not only had meaningful careers, but also take their voting responsibility seriously.
They have been going to Academy screenings for months, attending buffets and meet & greets with various producers, directors and stars. They see all the movies before they vote. Then they vote, not on the most popular picture or star, but on the best movies and performances. (This year's voting is not affected).
It is easy to make fun of them for only caring about getting free DVD’s, but in truth, they believe their experience is of value and they deserve to continue to have a voice. These same members welcome new generations from more diverse backgrounds with open arms.
For the disinvited to speak up publically right now, however, feels politically incorrect and makes them look racist.
There’s no question that institutional racism has a long history in Hollywood just as it has had in every aspect of American life. That began to change in the 1960s. It has been a slow, painful process, but even closet bigots are waving a Confederate flag of surrender in public these days.
The industry, and the Academy, which is supposed to reflect the best of movies, have been slow to change. Many longtime members support accelerating that rate of change but are deeply disturbed that getting the Academy on the new superhighway of the future requires them to be road kill.
The Academy suggests that even though these mostly older members are being made Emeritus (a member but without voting rights) - without their permission or consent - it is likely studios and their publicists will still send them screeners and invite them to the next celebrity awards, season clambake and 4k viewing party.
Just a second while I get up off the floor because I am laughing so hard. Tell your pals in Palm Springs, Bel Air and Malibu there will be no more screeners and forget rushing to the mailbox to find printed, embossed, illustrated invitations to attend private screenings and rub elbows with Leo or Jennifer.
Today all known eligible members of the Academy, the unions and guilds who might vote are stored on computer databases at the major studios, networks, publicity powerhouses and with party planners. (The Academy officially doesn't give out a list).
The fact is with a few keystrokes any person’s status can be changed from active to, as the Academy says, “Emeritus.” Publicists, notes one recent report, are even known to read the obits and click off names the same day.
Awards' campaigning has become big business because the recognition can make the movie’s brand much more salable. So the distributors target potential voters. What isn’t apparent is that there is a cost to every invitee. Those shrimp and crab boats are not free.
So those sending DVD's want to make sure the coveted Academy branded screeners don’t fall into the hands of non-voters who should be seeing the movies at the local multiplex. After all, that is in the best interested of their investors and stockholders.
It is only the veteran actor, director, cinematographer, producer, writer, or crafts person who once shined brightly enough to catch the eye of the Academy, who now suffers because in a notoriously difficult business, they did not have a sustained 30 year career or get an Oscar nomination. They are the ones who pay a price.
Do you think anyone will threaten to boycott the Oscars over their fate? No. Not even they would support that. That is who they are even in the face of this institutional betrayal of the promise by which they joined and have served.