The list of 638 invitees, a record in size, is 46 percent female and 41 percent people of color. Should the invitees choose to accept the honor, fan favorite actors like Idris Elba, John Boyega, Marlon Wayans, Vivica A. Fox, Emma Watson, and America Ferrera will be inducted into the prestigious Academy. The director’s branch stands to see their ranks swell with 90 new invitees including luminaries such as Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) and Ryan Coogler (Creed). Equally exciting is that over 50 of those director invitees are women. Considering the fact that it took 82 years for a woman to take home an Oscar for Best Director—and that only 3.4 percent of film directors are female—this estrogen injection is long overdue.
Musicians like Mary J. Blige and Will.i.am are also set to make their voices heard come next February. Rounding out the 2016 class are 283 international members from 59 countries, who will widen the perspective of an organization that’s often accused of making predictable calls and maintaining the status quo.
Despite the laudable diversity of the new member class of 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as a whole, will hardly become a Benetton ad overnight.
For two consecutive years, all twenty nominees in the major acting categories were white. At the 2015 awards ceremony, audiences pinned their hopes on Selma, which struck out with only two nominations, and one win for best song. In 2016, hopes buoyed again after a notable increase in acclaimed, diverse films and strong performances by actors of color in films like Beasts of No Nation, Creed, and Straight Outta Compton. Still, the academy refused to bite, releasing a roster of acting nominees that could have doubled as a J. Crew catalogue. Actors at the peak of their careers—Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, and Oscar Isaac, to name a few—were inexplicably passed over for chiseled pieces of Dove soap.
It’s challenging enough to land a role as an actor of color, without the added knowledge that you’ll have to work that much harder for recognition by the Academy. With such a homogenous cluster of voices at the top, Hollywood has remained essentially stagnant when it comes to issues of diversity. White, male studio executives, directors, and writers create parts and cast according to their own reflections instead of representing the racial and gender makeup of their viewing audience. A major 2016 film and television study revealed that just one-third of onscreen speaking characters were female, and only 28.3 percent of characters with dialogue were people of color.
In light of all this blatant racism, Twitter gave us the gift of #OscarsSoWhite, a hashtag meant to shame the Oscars into recognizing a group of actors that looked less like the cast of Bachelor in Paradise. After the 2016 fiasco, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson promised to do better, announcing a goal of doubling the number of women and minority members of the Academy by 2020.
So just how deeply white is the current Academy? Let’s put it this way: if the demographics of the Academy actually lined up with those of the U.S. population, Donald Trump would already be president. Even if every new member accepts their invitation, that will only raise the Academy’s percentage of female members from 25 percent to 27 percent, and members of color from 8 percent to 11 percent. Plus, out of 51 high-ranking Academy board members who oversee the Academy’s strategic planning and finances and approve all nominations for membership, all but two are white.
Selma director Ava DuVernay celebrated the Academy’s list of potential inductees, exclaiming, “I'm proud of the effort. It was intentional. It was intense. It was inclusive. And it was imperative. The Academy is heading in the right direction on a long road. A good start.”
April Reign, the creator of #OscarsSoWhite, is more cautious than optimistic: “If we’re going from 92 percent white folks to 89 percent white academy members, that’s not a significant enough change to see a shift in the frame of references that are being represented within the Academy itself. Even with nearly 700 new members, if the procedures don’t change, I’m concerned about what the 2017 Academy nominations will look like.”