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Academy Initiates Changes Geared To Overhaul Membership, Governing Body

Within moments after the Academy Award nominations were announced on January 14th, 2016, a backlash against the lack of ethnic diversity represented in the nominees began.  Within days, prominent public figures from Reverend Al Sharpton to actress Jada Pinkett Smith where urging people to join them in a boycott the Oscars.

As statements were bantered back and forth, with prominent members of the entertainment industry highlighting the fact that Academy members, not officials, vote on the nominees, the demographics of the voting membership were brought into question.  The voting body has long been criticized for its overall makeup: older white males, and the social media campaign – #OscarsSoWhite – helped to emphasize this point. On January 18th, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs released a statement that both applauded the achievements of those selected as 2016 nominees and recognized the need for a review of the voting system at large.

In a unanimous decision Thursday evening, January 21, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences approved a number of changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse.  The intention of the changes is to double the amount of women and diverse members of the Academy by the year 2020.

“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs in a press release sent Friday afternoon. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

Commencing at an as yet undeclared date after the awards process is completed in 2016, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade.  In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award.  We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members.  In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria.  Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status.  Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting.  This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars.

At the same time, the Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.

In order to immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the President, and confirmed by the Board, for three-year terms.

The Academy will also take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.

Along with Boone Isaacs, the Board’s Membership and Administration Committee, chaired by Academy Governor Phil Robinson, led the efforts to enact these initiatives.

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