Oscar organisers announce membership review amid race row

The body that hands out the Oscars has announced a review of its membership criteria, after no black actors were nominated for the second year running.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has responded to growing criticism from leading film industry figures, since this year’s nominations were announced last week.

Idris Elba was nominated for a Golden Globe and BAFTA for Beasts of No Nation, but missed out on an Oscar nod
Idris Elba was nominated for a Golden Globe and BAFTA for Beasts of No Nation, but missed out on an Oscar nod

The British actor Idris Elba was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA this year and was expected to be recognised by the Academy too, but when the nominations were announced, in both the lead and supporting acting categories, everyone on the short-lists were white – for the second year in a row.

“Forty white actors in two years, and no flava at all,” said the director Spike Lee yesterday, as he announced that he would be boycotting a ceremony he described as “lily white.” The actress Jada Pinkett Smith, whose husband Golden Globe-nominated Will Smith had also been hoping for recognition for his sports injury film Concussion, also said she’d be snubbing the event.

The President of the African American Film Critics Association, Gil Robertson, said he didn’t think there was anything sinister going on, but with so many of the six thousand Academy members being older white men, they tended to vote for films that they could identify with. Some industry commentators have noted that since the three hundred or so new members invited to join each year include Oscar nominees, the current system perpetuates a lack of diversity.

In a statement, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy’s first African American president, said she was both heartbroken and frustrated by what she called the lack of inclusion among the nominees and she the organisation would be taking dramatic steps to alter the make-up of its membership. She said efforts were being made to improve diversity, but she acknowledged that progress was too slow.

The host of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony – the comedian Chris Rock – is black, as is the show’s producer. And Spike Lee himself was given an honorary Oscar last year. But with Elba and Smith missing out on acting nominations, Straight Outta Compton being nominated only for its white screen-writers and Creed’s only nomination being for Sylvester Stallone, campaigners who’d complained last year about the lack of black and minority ethnic representation on Oscar night returned to twitter, resurrecting their OscarsSoWhite hashtag.