If you care about movies you have been aware of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy - for the second year in a row all of the acting nominees have been white, and only one non-white filmmaker has been nominated for Best Director. What had been a joke - the Academy that votes on the Oscar nominees is old and white and out of touch - had become a real problem. And it was a worsening problem - far fewer non-whites have been nominated for an Oscar this decade than in the previous two decades. A lot of positive change had been not only stopped, it had been reversed.
In the wake of the controversy the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has finally taken action, and they are dedicated to doubling the number of women and 'diverse members' of the Academy by 2020. But perhaps the biggest step they are taking is strategically pruning the olds who continue to gum up the works at nomination time (the average age of an Academy voter is 63, up from 62 in the last decade!). The new rules say that Academy members must be active in the film biz in the last ten years to maintain voting rights. If they haven't been active they become emeritus members, pay no dues, maintain all other benefits of Academy membership... except voting. There are a couple of loopholes - if you are nominated for or won an Oscar you never go inactive, and if a member stays active for thirty years they will achieve lifetime voting rights.
That trimming of the voting group could help avoid embarrassments like this year's shutout of Straight Outta Compton, which has been attributed to a bunch of 70 year old crackers just not getting the NWA thing at all. But it's the attempt to expand the membership base - one that includes the creation of three new Board of Governors seats that will be filled by the President of the Academy (ie, these seats will be all but guaranteed to women and minorities) and the relaxing of the Academy's 'invite only' membership drive - that could have the biggest impact.
This is just one piece of a larger puzzle, though. The Academy can only do so much while Hollywood is cranking out movies that are mostly white stories by and about white people. It is a good start, to be fair, and it's one that the Academy acknowledges. “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” says President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. That's the right attitude, and our attitude should be too applaud the Academy for making real efforts, and to remind the studios that this is on them as well. In the meantime we must continue to support films that are created by and for people who aren't white men. We have to put our money where our mouths are.