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#OscarsLessWhite: the Academy just invited nearly 700 new members to improve diversity — but there’s still a long way to go

14th Annual AFI Awards - Red Carpet
Director Ryan Coogler (L) and actor Michael B. Jordan were among the latest crop of Academy invitees.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

After two consecutive years of fielding persistent criticism over the ubiquitous whiteness of its Academy Award nominees — criticism that was most visibly expressed via the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter hashtag and subsequent boycotts of the 2016 ceremony — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is actively trying to diversify its membership.

On June 29, the Academy issued a record 683 membership invitations to various filmmakers and other Hollywood elites. And in keeping with the new membership diversity initiative it announced in January, many of these invitations went to women and people of color.

However, don’t expect to see immediate changes in the Academy’s overall diversity numbers; because the organization as a whole is still so predominantly white and male, its new "class" of entrants will only increase its overall diversity to about 38 percent, up from 33 percent before the new invites were sent out. This stat, as noted in the Hollywood Reporter, includes both female and nonwhite members.

In other words, even with this record-breaking invitee list, the Academy still skews 62 percent white and male.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, 46 percent of the Academy’s 683 newly issued invites went to women, and 41 percent went to people of color. Many of the most prominent potential recruits from among the Academy’s efforts to recruit women and creatives of color were attention-getting names. You can see the whole list at THR, but here are a few of our most notables.

The up-and-comers:

Among the new A-list set to receive invites was Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ John Boyega.

Meanwhile, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, who made a head-turning director/star combo in both Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015), also received invites, as did director/actor Nate Parker, whose upcoming film The Birth of a Nation is already causing buzz.

Other invitees included younger stars like Tom Hiddleston and Andrew Garfield as well as recent attention grabbers like director Lenny Abrahamson (Room).

The longtime vets:

There are also plenty of film veterans on the list — writers like Tina Fey and David Henry Hwang; well-known actors such as Vivica Fox, Ice Cube, and Gabrielle Union; and renowned female horror directors like Mary Harron (American Psycho), Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body), and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night).

Mad Max: Fury Road’s superhero editor Margaret Sixel also snagged an invitation, on the heels of her Oscar win for her work on the film. (Newly minted Oscar winners and nominees are typically invited to join the Academy, though not always.)

The how-did-it-take-them-so-long? set

In the "how was this person not already a member?" category, we have revered Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, director of groundbreaking films like Ten and Close-Up, longtime French director Catherine Breillat, British heartthrob Idris Elba (The Wire), and legendary stage actresses Cherry Jones and Patti LuPone.

In fact, the entire list of directors new to the Academy contains a litany of filmmakers whose Academy invites seem jaw-droppingly overdue: Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Boy), James Wan (Furious 7; the Saw and Conjuring franchises), Hou Hsiao-Hsien (The Assassin), Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, The Neon Demon), Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix), and Keenen Ivory Wayans are all new invitees this year, just to name a few.

Don’t expect change to happen overnight

Provided most of the invitees accept the honor and join the Academy, the influx of new voices could make waves in the kinds of films that are considered for the Academy Awards. After all, it’s hard to see invited musicians like Mary J. Blige and, or outspoken progressive writers like Sherman Alexie, also on this year’s invite list, voting to uphold the Academy’s status quo image of what an Oscar-winning film looks like.

But that sea change can only come from the Academy continuing to extend its invites to other diverse members. Currently, even with the newest potential inductees, the Academy’s overall membership includes only 11 percent people of color. And that’s assuming everyone accepts.

Still, the change is a much-needed one for a motion picture industry that has often been criticized as being hopelessly out of touch because of its failure to diversify.

If nothing else, it’s a long-overdue move — and hopefully it means more change is on the way.