The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Friday they have invited 276 artists and executives to join the ranks of the organization that hosts the Oscar awards ceremony. A record 22 Latinos were asked to join the exclusive group this year in an effort to diversify the Academy’s membership.
In the acting category alone, seven Latinos were added to the highly coveted group of voters, including actors Miriam Colon, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Lopez, Alma Martinez, Michael Peña, Geno Silva and Danny Trejo.
“These individuals are among the best filmmakers working in the industry today,” Academy President Hawk Koch said in a statement. “Their talent and creativity have captured the imagination of audiences worldwide, and I am proud to welcome each of them to the Academy.”
Actors Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, Chris Tucker and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were also invited to join the Academy. Among the new black members in the prestigious Directing and Writing branches are Steve McQueen, Tim Story, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Tina Gordon Chism and Ava DuVernay. In 2012, DuVernay became the first black woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. (Kathryn Bigelow is the first, and to date, the only, female director to win an Academy Award for Best Director for her film for The Hurt Locker.)
A 2012 L.A. Times study found The Academy’s voting members were disproportionately white and male. At the time of the study, Oscar voters were nearly 94% white and 77% male. Blacks made up about 2% of the academy and Latinos made up even less than 2%, the Times found. The study also found people younger than 50 made up just 14% of Oscar voters.
The Academy upped its invitees by exactly 100 more than it sent out in 2012: an effort to diversify the close to 6,000 members.
The disconnect between the Academy and movie-going audiences became apparent earlier this year after Lupe Ontiveros, whose film credits include "The Goonies" and "As Good As It Gets," was left out of the “In Memoriam” tribute reel during the Oscar ceremony.
National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) president Alex Nogales says his organization had never received so many emails and calls from people who were shocked and upset at how a woman with a 36-year film and TV acting career could be excluded out of the Oscars In Memoriam slideshow.
Nogales says he contacted the Academy to meet with leaders of the organization but his requests were denied.
“I called the CEO and left a message for her and the message was ‘if you do not meet with us, we will have a giant demonstration in front of your offices this coming week,” Nogales said.
After he finally got a meeting, Nogales says talks were “testy” because they didn’t have an established relationship but, in the end, commitments were made. The Academy asked NHMC to submit a list of Latinos they believed should be invited to join.
“We wish of course that there had been more people invited, but we understand that they haven’t brought in this many people in to the Academy in years and they certainly haven’t brought in a lot of Latinos previous to this time,” Nogales said. “It was a victory for them [The Academy] to carry out their diversity goals as they had promised us and a victory for our community as well.”
Pete Hammond at the entertainment industry insider publication Deadline.com points out there is at least one Academy member who has already complained about the organization “drifting into affirmative action territory and cutting out more deserving applicants.”
Nogales disagrees that the Academy is snubbing more qualified members.
“All you have to do is look at the work of the individuals invited to see the incredible talent involved,” Nogales said. “Those type of bigoted remarks bounce right off us.”