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The Academy is expanding in record numbers, but meaningful diversity is still a long way off

The Oscars’ voting society invited nearly 800 new members this year, but its rate of diversity actually shrank.

89th Annual Academy Awards - Backstage
Director Ezra Edelman clutches his Oscar during the 2017 Annual Academy Awards.
Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images
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.

Just as it did in 2015 and 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has smashed previous records for the number of new membership invitations it has issued to creatives in the film industry.

The Academy lavishly announced Wednesday that it had invited a record 774 new members to join the “class of 2017,” a number well over last year’s record-breaking 683 invites, which itself was more than double the previous year’s record-breaking number of 322 invites.

In a dynamic website presentation, the Academy celebrated its commitment to diversifying its membership, noting that 39 percent of this year’s invitees were women and 30 percent were people of color.

But the Academy might not want to get too congratulatory, too quickly. While the industry is clearly making efforts to diversify, this year’s crop of new members is actually less diverse than last year’s — and the Academy overall still remains deeply skewed toward white, male members of the industry.

The Oscars may be less white and less male, but the Academy still has a long way to go

The expanded membership offerings are part of the Academy’s continued efforts to diversify in response to ongoing backlash about the systemic whiteness of the awards and voting process. Indeed, this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, which gave the Best Picture award to Moonlight, seemed to help counter a traditionally bland awards system that tends to favor blander, bigger films over outsider films — though most of the evening’s honors went to the favorite, La La Land. Presumably, the Academy’s rapidly diversifying membership will help this trend continue.

But while the Academy is eager to tout its growth rates, its overall membership is still woefully homogeneous — and despite the record numbers, the Academy’s push toward greater diversity may actually be slowing. Specifically, last year, 46 and 41 percent of the Academy’s 683 newly issued invites went to women and people of color, respectively. This year, those percentages are significantly lower, with just 39 percent of the total invites going to women and 30 percent going to people of color.

And the percentage shift isn’t just a result of the greater number of invitees overall: even though the total number of invites increased in 2017, the number of women and people of color invited overall actually decreased — from 314 women invited in 2016 to just 301 women in 2017, and from 280 people of color in 2016 to 232 in 2017. And those new members are entering an ever-larger pool of longtime Academy voters who potentially dilute the effects of any incoming diversity.

A glance at its charts for overall membership reveals that while it may be attempting to make up for lost time with record numbers of invites, the Academy, by its own admission, is still incredibly non-diverse. The overall number of women in the Academy is just 28 percent:

Even with record numbers of female inductees, the Academy’s overall female membership is barely above a quarter of the total.

And the overall number of people of color is barely out of the single digits:

The Academy’s overall membership is still overwhelmingly white.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about this year’s incumbents — along with plenty of reasons to look askance at the Academy for waiting so long to invite more than a few industry legends.

The invite list is a mix of hot new names, longtime industry vets, and stark double standards

Among this year’s crop of new inductees were a number of recently ascendant Hollywood A-listers — particularly several of the famed Hollywood Chrises — Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth. (Chris Pine received his invite in 2015.)

Lin Manuel-Miranda, Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed, The Beguiled’s Elle Fanning, Ruth Negga, Janelle Monáe, Donald Glover, and Jordan Peele (invited as a director for Get Out) are a few of the many names on the list who’ve received invites after doing highly lauded work within the past year. The list also includes a significant number of established directors whose films have recently made waves in Hollywood — notably, Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, and Theodore Melfi, director of Hidden Figures. Though Jenkins had only directed one feature film before, Melfi’s career was extensive, so it’s a bit surprising to see them all on the list together following their breakout hits. But then, such is the way of the Academy, which places these breakout names alongside bona fide legends like Japanese director Takashi Miike, finally getting his Academy invite after a long, prolific career helming movies like Audition, Ichi the Killer, and 13 Assassins.

A number of other film veterans both international and local made the scene — including longtime international superstars like Baywatch’s Priyanka Chopra and Hong Kong New Wave legends Tony Leung, Carina Lau, and Maggie Cheung. Sisters Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad were invited jointly, while actors like Jon Hamm, Betty White, and Ciarán Hinds also got their chance to make their mark on the Academy after years of solid industry work.

In the “how was this person not already a member?” category, we have actors like Viggo Mortensen, martial arts star Donnie Yen, and Amy Poehler, as well as Justin Timberlake and legendary musician Nick Cave. The Russo brothers (Anthony and Joe, known for directing the Captain America films for Marvel), Guy Ritchie, Simon Pegg, and Joss Whedon also stand out among the litany of industry veterans the Academy seems to have taken a surprisingly long time to invite.

What’s especially telling about this list is that it includes so many women with long industry credits, each of whom seemingly should have been invited years prior to this, because it seems their Academy credentials were earned long ago. These include a number of longtime women film editors, each with about 30 credits to their name according to IMDB: Monika Willi, Tracy Granger, French editor Alexandra Strauss, and Lars Von Trier’s go-to editor, Molly Marlene Stensgaard.

Set designer Beverly Dunn actually won the Academy Award for The Great Gatsby in 2013, yet she only finally received her membership invitation four years later, amid a self-conscious attempt by the Academy to find more women to include. Given the number of industry figures who have been immediately invited less than a year after prominent Academy wins, nominations, and blockbuster hits, it’s hard not to see this as yet another sign that the Academy has a long way to go — not only to truly diversify, but to stop overlooking women and people of color with long, lauded careers within the industry.