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Oscars organizers invite women, minorities in diversity push

Los Angeles, United States | AFP |

Almost half the 683 people invited this year to join the organization that bestows the Oscars are women and nearly as many people of color, the body announced on Wednesday in a bid to honor its vow to push for more diversity.

The record number of invitees include rising young stars John Boyega of “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” actress Emma Watson, Swedish Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and musician Mary J. Blige, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said in a statement.

Of the class of 2016 — which also includes Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta, Belgian-Kurdish filmmaker Sahim Omar Kalifa, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and French director Catherine Breillat — 283 are identified as international members representing 59 countries.

The new invitees are 46 percent female and 41 percent ethnic minorities, the Academy said, adding that the roster boasts 28 Oscar winners and 98 nominees. The youngest invitee is 24 and the oldest 91.

The new list follows scathing criticism about a lack of diversity in the Academy’s ranks and among Oscar winners.

All 20 nominees in the main acting categories at this year’s Oscars were white for the second year running, prompting calls to boycott the glitzy event and an angry social media backlash under the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

“This class continues our long-term commitment to welcoming extraordinary talent reflective of those working in film today,” Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in a statement. “We encourage the larger creative community to open its doors wider, and create opportunities for anyone interested in working in this incredible and storied industry.”

‘More diverse, less qualified’

Provided most of those invited this year agree to join, the Academy’s membership demographic will begin to change from mainly white, male and for the most part over the age of 60.

But it will take time to fundamentally diversify the organization’s 6,000-plus voting members.

Male membership, currently at 75 percent, would slip to 73 percent if all this year’s invitees join, the Academy said.

White members, who make up 92 percent, would thin to 89 percent.

The Academy’s board of governors has vowed to double the number of female and ethnic minority members by 2020.

The average age of its members is 63, the organization told AFP earlier this year.

Each candidate must be put forward by two members who believe he or she has “demonstrated exceptional achievement in the field of theatrical motion pictures.”

Members typically join one of the Academy’s 17 branches that award the coveted golden statuettes every year.

Beginning this year, voting status for all new members will last just 10 years, to be renewed only if they have been active in movies during that time.

While many in the industry hailed the Academy’s push to increase diversity among its members on Wednesday, others also questioned whether all those invited deserved the honor.

“Some are widely known and unquestionably talented, but their achievements in the film realm, as opposed to other media, seem lacking,” Scott Feinberg, an awards analyst for the entertainment magazine The Hollywood Reporter wrote.

He pointed to Tina Fey, of the iconic comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” and America Ferrera of the TV comedy series “Ugly Betty.”

Feinberg also questioned the wisdom of inviting younger talents who have little professional experience and others who have made movies that would never be considered for an Academy Award.

“True, a little bit of progress is better than no progress,” he wrote. “But I’m not convinced that an Academy with more diverse but less qualified members is a better Academy.”

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