The Academy Awards are this Sunday at 7e|4p on ABC, and they’re something of a national viewing event—and even if you don’t watch them, you’ll probably hear about the Best Picture winner or see the stamps “Nominated for Best Picture” on your next home movie. But despite their status as a national event, a Los Angeles Times report finds that the people behind the scenes, the ones deciding the winners, are entirely unrepresentative of the nation.
A Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%.
Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership.
The academy is primarily a group of working professionals, and nearly 50% of the academy’s actors have appeared on screen in the last two years. But membership is generally for life, and hundreds of academy voters haven’t worked on a movie in decades.
Some are people who have left the movie business entirely but continue to vote on the Oscars — including a nun, a bookstore owner and a retired Peace Corps recruiter. Under academy rules, their votes count the same as ballots cast by the likes of Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Frank Pierson, a former academy president who won an Oscar for original screenplay for “Dog Day Afternoon” in 1976, said merit is the primary criterion for membership.
“I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for,” said Pierson, who still serves on the board of governors. “We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it.”
Some academy members, though, believe the organization should do more to reflect the demographics of the nation. Denzel Washington, who won the lead actor award for 2001′s “Training Day,” said the academy needs to “open it up” and “balance” its membership.
“If the country is 12% black, make the academy 12% black,” Washington said. “If the nation is 15% Hispanic, make the academy 15% Hispanic. Why not?”
It is clear that criticism is justified. The survey finds, by any standard, an entirely unrepresentative organization, and certainly not one demographically worthy to claim representation of film excellence. With numbers like these, it is certainly no surprise that something like The King’s Speech (old white historical figures) won out over The Social Network (young white trailblazers). We can only wait to see if that demographic determinism plays itself out again this Sunday.