clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Academy’s new member class is a big step for diversity. But there’s a long way to go.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has broken its record for new members four years running — all in pursuit of diversity.

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala - Arrivals
Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya was one of the many new faces invited to join the Academy in 2018.
Jason Kempin/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.

The Academy’s diversity keeps growing — which only highlights how far it still has to go.

Since 2015, when April Reign created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag to call out the lack of diversity in Hollywood — and specifically the Academy Awards — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has responded by opening its doors wide to new members in record-smashing droves, particularly for women and people of color.

That push continues in 2018, as the Academy announced on June 25 that it has invited 928 new inductees to join its ranks — yet another record number that makes the “class of 2018” potentially its most diverse yet.

In its increased transparency and willingness to change, however, the Academy is also highlighting just how entrenched patriarchal norms are in Hollywood — and how far we still have to go to achieve parity across the industry.

This year’s new members include Quvenzhané Wallis, J.K. Rowling, and Kumail Nanjiani

Among this year’s new inductees were a number of recently ascendant Hollywood A-listers, including Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya; Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes; Call Me By Your Name’s Timothy Chalamet; and Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley, whose Force Awakens co-stars Oscar Isaac and John Boyega both received their membership invites in 2016. Quvenzhané Wallis, known for Beasts of the Southern Wild and Annie, was the youngest actor to receive an invitation, at the age of 14.

A number of women comedians also received their nods from the Academy’s acting branch, among them Tiffany Haddish, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, and Mindy Kaling. The comedy beat was also on the mind of the writers branch, who invited The Big Sick writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who was also tapped for an acting invite). Among other writers getting their due is Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, currently writing the screenplays for her Fantastic Beasts series of films.

In the annual “what took so damn long” category, we have longtime industry vets like comedian Dave Chappelle, and actors Jada Pinkett Smith, Taye Diggs, and Jennifer Grey. Four of the voice actors from TV’s longest-running sitcom, The Simpsons, got invites — for their film work, not The Simpsons — including Yeardley Smith (Lisa) and Hank Azaria (most well-known for voicing Apu).

The Wire’s Omar is finally coming, as Michael Kenneth Williams snagged his invite a decade after playing Barack Obama’s favorite television character, which helped open him up to work in films like The Road, Inherent Vice, and 12 Years a Slave. And international Bollywood mega-star Shah Rukh Khan also finally got his Academy nod, which makes us want to do the Chaiyya Chaiyya dance.

But all this diversity only signifies how far the Academy and Hollywood still have to go

For four years in a row, the Academy has smashed previous records for the number of new membership invitations issued to creatives in the film industry. In 2015, in apparent response to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, it issued a record-breaking 322 invites to new members. In 2016, it more than doubled that number with 683 invites. And in 2017, that number jumped again, to 774 new invites.

While each of these leaps in membership was good news for long-marginalized members of the industry, the open floodgates were a very long time coming. You can see that in the overall percentages of membership diversity.

Even with its rapidly expanding membership, the number of people of color in the Academy is just barely out of the single digits — currently 16 percent, a doubling from just 8 percent three years ago.

Meanwhile, the number of women in the Academy now potentially stands at just double the number of non-white members: At 31 percent, they still represent less than a third of the total membership.

Still, the numbers represent a concerted effort by the Academy to change —a fulfillment of the promise made in 2016 by then-president Cheryl Boone Isaacs to double the overall level of diversity by 2020. The initiative added additional seats on the Academy’s board of governors as well as several of its executive committees to quickly facilitate the addition and greater activity of diverse members in its midst.

But while all of this activity has clearly had significant effects, it’s hard not to feel that they’re diluted by the overwhelming number of white men who dominate the Academy’s 17 branches, which will boast about 8,700 members after this year’s induction.

Discussing the push for diversity in Hollywood, Reign, whose hashtag started it all, told the LA Times in January that she’s “encouraged by the incremental progress every year but there is still so much work to be done.”

#OscarsSoWhite is very much alive and as relevant as when I created it,” she stated. “And until we are no longer lauding firsts after a 90-year history [of the film academy], until we can no longer count a traditionally underrepresented group’s number of nominations in a particular category on our fingers, there will be more work to do.”