Well, here’s a feel-good story about a frankly homogeneous organization (and industry) taking positive, forceful strides towards inclusion and representation: yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the invitation of 774 new filmmakers, actors, designers, and technicians for membership in the Academy. That’s a record-breaking number of new members, topping last year’s previous record-breaker of 683. And like that group, the class of 2017 displays a pronounced emphasis on including women and people of color – so much so that, according to Variety, the 30% membership of POC in the new class bumps the total membership to 13%, while the 39% membership of women in this year’s group bumps the Academy’s overall female membership to 28%. Those new and improved numbers are still nothing to brag about, but hey, they’re working on it, right? Right! So let’s all chalk this up as a win for diversity and move along to some otherohwait some asshole at The Hollywood Reporter would like to voice his objections.
“I do not relish writing this post,” bleats THR awards columnist Scott Feinberg, with all the smug sorry-PC-police brio of a bad Bill Maher monologue, “but it is my job, as The Hollywood Reporter‘s awards columnist, to recognize and notify readers about the stories behind the stories that pertain to awards, even if doing so doesn’t endear me to everyone who might read them — so here we go.”
And he goes (and goes, and goes). He makes a number of laughably erroneous claims – for one, that the 2015 #OscarsSoWhite controversy was a tempest in a teapot because “no woman or person of color had been robbed of a nomination that had been universally expected, and there were no inexplicable absences among the nominees.” (Quick reminders, off the top of my head: Idris Elba was not only nominated for, but won the SAG Supporting Actor Award for Beasts of No Nation, yet was not nominated by the AMPAS; Sylvester Stallone was deemed Oscar-worthy for Creed, but not his African-American co-star Michael B. Jordan, or his African-American writer/director Ryan Coogler.) He also claims that “Moonlight‘s biggest fans included old white people and La La Land‘s young black people” (lol what). And, in a parenthetical, he asserts that homophobia among older AMPAS members is “a ridiculous excuse” for Brokeback Mountain’s notorious Best Picture loss to Crash (demonstrably false).
But here’s the nut of it: “Markedly lowering the bar for entry into the Academy dilutes the credibility of the organization and the prestige of its awards.” Ah, yes, the vaunted credibility and untarnished prestige of the organization that has given awards to Suicide Squad, Pearl Harbor, The Blind Side, Roberto Begnini, Tom Hooper, Jared Leto, and the aforementioned Crash. Yes, God forbid we sully that organization’s good name by allowing them to include the likes of Jordan Peele!
And yes, Mr. Peele – the writer/director of Get Out, one of the year’s most critically acclaimed and commercially profitable motion pictures – is singled out as a questionable invite by Mr. Feinberg, because he has “literally made only one film” as director; same complaint goes to Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, who he claims has made “only one big-screen contribution of any note.” (It’s her second time playing that character alone.) And though Feinberg claims to “hate to single anyone out,” he does: “I don’t think even the people who I am going to reference would argue that they have had the sort of film career that already merits an invitation to the film Academy… Wanda Sykes? Zoe Kravitz? Terry Crews? Really?” And he has similar sneers of derision for actors, like Kate McKinnon, Donald Glover, Riz Ahmed, and B.D. Wong, whom he claims are “predominantly known for their work on the small screen.”
With astonishingly little effort, we could rip apart Feinberg’s dismissal of any and all of these fine actors and their more-than-credible CVs, or note that condescension towards performers who split their time between film and television went out somewhere in the mid-‘90s. (And frankly, anyone who only knows B.D. Wong from Mr. Robot shouldn’t have a fucking Xanga blog, much less a column at THR.) But to make those arguments is to grant Feinberg’s overall premise and to meet him there. And his premise is predicated on racist, sexist, elitist bullshit.
The fact of the matter is this: Feinberg’s stated expectations for lengthy resumes, focus on film over television, and general “merits” are found nowhere in the Academy’s membership requirements. They state, quite simply, that a member must be “working in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures,” receiving sponsorship from two existing members (or an Oscar nomination of their own) and “the favorable endorsement of the appropriate Branch Executive Committee.” The specifics of each committee vary, but let’s look at the acting branch, since Feinberg chose to besmirch so many of its invitees:
To be considered for invitation to membership in the Actors Branch of the Academy, an individual must:
(a) have a minimum of three theatrical feature film credits, in all of which the roles played were scripted roles, one of which was released in the past five years, and all of which are of a caliber that reflect the high standards of the Academy,
(b) have been nominated for an Academy Award in one of the acting categories,
(c) have, in the judgment of the Actors Branch Executive Committee, otherwise achieved unique distinction, earned special merit or made an outstanding contribution as a motion picture actor.
Hey guess what Wanda Sykes, Zoë Kravtiz, Terry Crews, Kate McKinnon, Donald Glover, Riz Ahmed, and B.D. Wong all have in common? They all meet those standards. Some lap them. Some have appeared in that many films in the last year, much less five. So what’s the problem?
The problem is the other thing they all have in common: that they’re women and people of color, and since they’re part of a concerted effort to increase membership among those demos (a membership that, even with their addition, is still shamefully low), old-guard status-quo gatekeepers like Feinberg insist that their inclusion smacks of tokenism. After all, he insists, Academy members are “not racist in any significant numbers” (somehow resisting the urge to claim that some of their best friends are black) – they just don’t feel all these women and people of color are quite right for their organization, just yet.
It’s one thing for Academy members, terrified of their own obsolescence, to voice these thoughts in private (and, as writer Charles Bramesco notes, in the Reporter’s loathsome annual tradition of “Anonymous Oscar ballots”). But it’s reprehensible for an industry publication like THR to hand Feinberg the bandwidth to mouthpiece it for them, with all the conviction of a country-club president who assures us that it means nothing that their membership is all-white. It’s just how things are done around here.