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Following Outcry, 'Sweeping' Reforms Announced to Expand Oscars Diversity

'You can change the Academy,' says one award-winning artist, 'but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?'

Comedian and actor Chris Rock will host this year's Oscars. This year's award are mired in controversy after protest ensued, and some Hollywood A-listers announced they would boycott, when it was announced there was not one black nominee for any of the major acting awards for the second year in a row. (Image Credit: Hyable)

Following a week of stinging rebukes, boycott announcements, and high-profile commentary from some of the film industry's most prominent performers, writers, and directors, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body which officiates the Oscars each year, announced it would be making "sweeping" changes in order to increase diversity among its notoriously secretive, homogenous, and elite membership.

In a statement released Friday, the Academy said it  will "commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020" by enacting a series of reforms including new recruitment efforts and creating new board seats.

"The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up," said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. "These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition." Isaacs had been under particular pressure since the 2016 nominees announced two weeks ago included not a single person of color in any of the high-profile acting categories.

In 2012, reporting by the Los Angeles Times showed that voting members of the Academy were 94% Caucasian and 77% male. The academy did not list specific numbers for the new membership goals.

As the Guardian reports, the initial response to the Academy's announcement on Friday appeared to be "largely positive." Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, a black woman whose film Selma was nominated for an Oscar last year, responded on Twitter by calling the move "one small step in a long and complicated journey for people of color [and] women artists."

Referencing the intense national debate that has taken place in recent days, DuVernay said that "Shame" has proved itself "a helluva motivator."

Viola Davis, an Oscar-nominee and the first black women ever awarded an Emmy in the Best Actress in a drama category, echoed many others when she said this week that the issue of diversity in the film industry goes beyond the makeup of the Academy. 

"The problem is not with the Oscars, the problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system," Davis told Entertainment Tonight. "You can change the Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?"

Meanwhile, writing in the Chicago Tribune on Saturday, columnist Dahleen Glanton said that even though the Academy's Friday announcement should considered a "good start," it certainly "won't solve all of the problems caused by decades of invisibility" experienced by minorities in the nation's workforce.

"It's a shame that we seem to notice problems concerning diversity only when it slaps us in the face," writes Glanton. "We wait until the Oscar nominations are released or until something else flares up, and we ask, why are no minorities represented?"

For minorities, she continues, "the issue of diversity always is front and center," because all too often they are the only ones giving it continued thought. "One of the privileges of being in the majority is that you don't have to think about what it means to be in the majority."

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