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Academy Award rules change to address racism by embracing ageism
Will Smith's performance in "Concussion" should have merited an Oscar nomination, according to those who have attacked the Motion Picture Academy over its lack of diversity. - photo by Chris Hicks
Under pressure from several corners to address the lack of diversity among Oscar nominees this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to take action.

So to avoid future charges of racism from high-profile Academy members threatening to boycott this years Oscars, such as Spike Lee, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith and her husband, Will Smith, among others, the solution seemed clear to those in charge: Exchange racism for ageism.

Thats right, to shake things up among voters and ensure more nominees of color, the Academy has decided to devalue senior members, as if punishing those who have helped shape the movie industry over the past 30-50 years will somehow fix the problem of an all-white Oscar ballot.

Isnt ones reaction to a movie a subjective thing? Yes, and the Academy apparently blames its old, white, stuck-in-the-mud voters for ignoring worthy candidates of color.

But arent many of these senior citizens the same people who marched and lobbied for civil rights in the 1960s and who also voted Oscars to Sidney Poitier, Louis Gossett Jr., Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Octavia Spencer, etc.?

So, assuming everyone votes with their conscience, older voters are being punished for choosing their favorites over other movies they apparently didnt like as much.

But maybe it was younger members who liked the nominated movies and performances more. How do they know its older members?

And how does the marginalizing of one group repair the marginalizing of another?

Only in Hollywood.

For the benefit of those who may be unaware of (or simply dont care about) this controversy in the cloistered world of the Hollywood rich and famous, there has been an outcry because, for the second year in a row, the nominees in the four top Oscar categories that is, the best actor and actress and the best supporting actor and actress are all white.

According to news reports, several 2015 performances by worthy actors of color were overlooked (and slighted), chiefly Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson for Creed, Oscar Isaac for Ex Machina, Benicio Del Toro for Sicario, Jason Mitchell for Straight Outta Compton and Will Smith for Concussion."

There is also outcry because all of those films and in particular Straight Outta Compton are missing from the best-picture category, even though that category has only eight nominees when 10 are allowed.

So, for the second year in a row, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has been, as they say, blowing up on Twitter, with journalists and movie fans, as well as industry insiders, calling out the Academy Awards for its under-representation of people of color.

To review, Oscar nominations are determined by voting members of each branch of the Academy. That is, actors vote for actors, directors vote for directors, sound engineers vote for sound engineers, etc.

After the nominees are selected, a new ballot goes out and all members vote for every category.

There has long been controversy about this process since its obvious that Academy members cant possibly see all of each years films or even all the movies that are singled out by critics and pundits at the end of each year.

And sometimes voters dont take the process seriously. Years ago, an Academy member told me (without naming names) that he knew other members who would hand off their ballots to be filled out by family members or assistants and send them in as their own.

And a lot of Academy members simply vote for their cronies.

Anyway, the Academy has decided to take care of this problem head-on by what it refers to as sweeping reforms. Acknowledging that the 6,261 voting members are 93 percent white and 76 percent male, the Academy is diversifying its executive and board committees, along with other steps to meet its stated goal of doubling the number of diverse members and women in the Academy by 2020 and preventing #OscarsSoWhite from trending again.

But buried among these reforms is a rule that requires voting members to be active in motion pictures and to renew that status every 10 years although youre exempt from worry if youve actually been nominated for an Oscar.

As you might expect, this is not sitting well with older, and in particular retired, voters. The Academy claims the rule isnt really new but will now be better enforced. It also claims that membership status is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by a committee.

But if this is meant to weed out people who arent really part of the movie community anymore, such as someone who got into the business briefly but hasnt been involved for years, wouldnt committee oversight clean up that problem?

The Academys online explanations in the FAQ section of claim that its bylaws have never intended that members have voting privileges for life. From there, it gets more complicated as justifications are made with assurances that pushing out older voters is not the idea.

A lot of older Academy members arent happy, and many of them are speaking out, suggesting that they are being made scapegoats for the Academys lack of diversification, that their experience and knowledge and love of movies of all stripes is being kicked to the curb.

Hey, if it walks like a duck

As a side note, in last week's column about box-office earnings, I wrote that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the only 2015 film on the all-time greatest-hits adjusted-for-inflation list.

Not so, as eagle-eyed reader Jon Culver pointed out.

The adjusted list is the one that puts the once-and-future box-office-king Gone With the Wind at the top, and as I noted, Star Wars: The Force Awakens landed at No. 11.

But misreading the charts coding system, I overlooked Jurassic World at No. 24, Avengers: Age of Ultron at 90, Inside Out at 142, Furious 7 at 160 and Minions at 163.

My thanks to Mr. Culver for keeping me honest.
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