Progress for a Changing Academy

This year’s Oscar winners could reflect the youngest, most diverse Academy yet

Artwork by Katie Heywood

Artwork by Katie Heywood

When you step onto the diamond draped stage of the Dolby Theatre to accept your Oscar, you thank your mother, your agent, maybe even your God, but above all, you thank the Academy. Despite the Academy Award’s glamorous notoriety, it’s still somewhat shrouded in anonymity. Who are the lucky members that get to award those lauded, tiny, gold men every year?

If you’re reading this and wondering how to apply for Academy membership, I’d advise you to apply to film school first. The Academy of Moving Picture Arts and Sciences is comprised of over 7,000 acclaimed film professionals—and membership is as selective as it is prestigious.

The Academy was founded in 1927, and up until very recently, its nominations problematically reflected its age. In response to the #OscarsSoWhite boycott last year, the Academy recently barred its unexpirable membership policy. Now, members must be active in the industry within the last ten years to maintain voting privileges. The hope is that this new rule will hold the Academy accountable, while continuously ushering in the voices of younger, more innovative, and culturally diverse filmmakers.

Leading up to the 89th Annual Academy Awards this February, the question remained: Did these diversification efforts catalyze change?

The short answer to that question is a hesitant yes.

This year, a record seven minority actors were nominated, contrasting the zero nominations in the past two years. Complete diversification within the Academy and its nominees, unfortunately, is not going to happen overnight. Progress, however, can be marked by significant victories.

There’s something deeply symbolic of the fact that this year’s Best Picture was reclaimed by a film about an impoverished, gay, black man after being mistakenly awarded to a film about two white lovers and their dreams of grandeur. Both films are indisputably cinematic works of art. The discerning factor is that, while films like “La La Land” are ones the world loves to watch, films like “Moonlight” are ones the world so desperately needs to see. This year, the Academy recognized that.

“We didn’t do this. You guys [the Academy] chose us,” Moonlight director and writer Barry Jenkins said, still in shock from the chaotic Best Picture win. “Thank you for the choice.”