EW – Following two years of sharp criticism and back-to-back ceremonies with an all-white slate of acting nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture of Arts & Sciences has taken some big steps in 2017 toward including more women and people of color in the Oscars’ selection process. Last week, a record 774 new members from 57 countries around the world were asked to join the organization’s ranks. Of that group, 39 percent are women, and if all accept their invitation, the total number of female participants overall will jump from 27 percent to 28 percent; under similar circumstances, the freshman class of 2017 could also see the number of racial minorities in the 8,427-strong institution rise from 11 percent to 13 percent.
As the Academy heads into what could be its most inclusive annual cycle to date, EW chatted with nine new members about AMPAS’ ongoing push for racial and gender equality: actors Priyanka Chopra, Phylicia Rashad, Rinko Kikuchi, Aldis Hodge, Sanaa Lathan, Terry Crews, Colman Domingo, and Anna Deavere Smith, and Colombian filmmaker Patricia Cardoso — all of whom accepted their invitations. Read on to find out what they feel still needs to change about the Academy, the dangers of Oscar campaigning, how they think AMPAS has evolved in a post-#OscarsSoWhite arena, why Moonlight‘s historic best picture victory signals a changing of the guard, what the future holds for women in the Academy, and the potential impact their fellow invitees will have on 2018 Oscar voting (spoiler alert: Get Out and Wonder Woman should probably be on your early predictions list in multiple categories).
On the Academy’s evolving identity regarding racial and gender inclusion
ALDIS HODGE (Straight Outta Compton): The Academy has more power and influence than it really understands. Sometimes it sets the tone for how we’re received, culturally, all over the world. Even if they don’t understand the movies or the language, people pay attention to the Oscars all over the world. It looks like an example to follow when the Academy is saying, Hey look, this is not okay, and we have an entire population that isn’t being represented… The #OscarsSoWhite controversy opened their eyes to what was really going on. It wasn’t a targeted effort against women and people of color, but it was a naïve and neglected effort… When you say “diversity,” the term has been denigrated over the years, because it has been used as a crutch… you get into these executive offices and people say, Oh, we have this project, wait a minute guys, we need diversity, let’s choose a black actor for this, let’s choose a Hispanic actor for this, instead of saying, That’s not diverse, that’s just normal. That’s what makes up America… Diversity is giving people of color another label… that’s giving people of different gender and sexual preferences another label, another box that separates us from the majority.
The Academy woke up to their negligence and said, Look at all these gems we’ve been missing… That’s a systemic issue in the industry. In fact, I read a script the other day and I said no, I can’t do it because it was supposedly addressing police brutality, but the black character was written so very stereotypically. The police were written so sympathetically, where you didn’t feel they were doing anything wrong. Right now, this is a cultural issue where people are going off… I couldn’t even finish the script. I told them no… I couldn’t even take the meeting. We have a responsibility to represent the times well. There are a lot of people who have not experienced the reality that some other cultures have, so they’re going to continue to speak a different way… as an Academy that represents artists and the world, you do have to do the work, and right now the Academy is trying to do the work. So as long as they do the work, we’ll be able to do our work.
On the Academy’s responsibility to gender and racial representation
HODGE: If the Academy is going to be the hub of prestige for skills and the fine-tuning of your craft, we need all artists represented, so we need the Oscars to be the leader and the example in that way. They have a responsibility, as does every studio. You don’t just have one particular type of audience watching your work, shows, or films. That’s not to say every single project has to be wildly inclusive, because not every subject matter allows for that. Diversity, at its root, means different, right? Inclusion means including that which is already there. So for me, to include women and include cultures and people of different colors, that’s not diversity because it’s not different. This country is not built on one culture alone. We all make up this industry. If you look at the crews, the crews alone are so intermixed culturally, and these people, the crews, are the blood, sweat, and tears of the set… so when you think about who really contributes to keeping this machine going, you have a massive responsibility to represent these people.