Oscars 2016: Academy issues ‘heartbroken and frustrated’ mea culpa on white nominations

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs (right) announces the Oscar nominees with actor John Krasinski. Photo: Kevin WinterThe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Los Angeles-based organisation whose members vote for the annual Oscars, has been forced to release an unprecedented mea culpa in the wake of growing anger over the lack of ethnic diversity in this year’s actor nominations.

When the nominations were announced last week, the key actor categories included 20 white actors, and none from non-white backgrounds; it is the second year in a row where the Oscar acting nominations have excluded actors of other ethnicities.

In a statement released to media, the Academy’s president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said she was “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion”.

“This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes,” Isaacs said.

Isaacs said the Academy would take “dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership; in the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond”.

The stunning concession from the Academy comes as a number of high-profile African American entertainment industry figures have confirmed they will not attend the Oscars.

“We can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgment or respect of any group,” actress Jada Pinkett Smith said in a statement issued via social media.

The director Spike Lee also confirmed he would not attend.

“It’s no coincidence I’m writing this as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s birthday,” Lee said.

“Dr King said, there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it’s right,” Lee said.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated in the United States on the third Monday of January; King was a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the US.

Isaacs said the Academy had already implemented changes to “diversify” its membership, but acknowledged that change was not coming quickly enough to the almost-90-year-old organisation.

It is composed of almost 6000 members, all working professionals in the entertainment industry.

“As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years,” she said. “But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly.”

Isaacs noted that the Academy had, during the 1960s and 1970s, recruited younger members in an attempt to make its membership more fairly reflect the community’s demographics.

“In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation,” she said.

“We recognise the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.”

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