The first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Cheryl Boone Isaacs spoke out Friday night in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press about the firestorm that erupted over the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations. The film academy president said the all-white acting slate inspires her to “accelerate the academy’s push for more diversity.”
All 20 of this year’s acting contenders are white and there are no women in the directing or writing categories. After the nominations were announced Thursday morning when the Hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending on Twitter.
Boone Isaacs said “the academy is committed to seeking out diversity of voice and opinion. In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members. And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”
She declined to address whether she and the academy were embarrassed by the slate of white contenders, instead insisting that she’s proud of the nominees, all of whom deserved recognition.
She explained that all voting is individual and confidential. Each branch comes up with its own criteria for excellence, she said, and each nominates its colleagues. For instance, only directors can suggest best director nominees and only actors can nominate actors. But the entire academy membership can submit suggestions for best picture.
“There is not one central body or group of people that sit around the table and come up with nominations. “It really is a peer-to-peer process.”
With all the accolades the civil rights drama “Selma” has received since its Christmas opening, some felt its failure to garner nominations for director Ava DuVernay or star David Oyelowo reflected a racial bias.
“What is important not to lose sight of is that ‘Selma,’ which is a fantastic motion picture, was nominated for best picture this year, and the best picture category is voted on by the entire membership of around 7,000 people,” Boone Isaacs said.
Besides best picture, the film received just one additional nod for original song in what was widely viewed as a significant snub. But fans shouldn’t feel that way, she said: “It’s nominated for the Oscar for best picture. It’s an award that showcases the talent of everyone involved in the production of the movie ‘Selma.'”
“It matters that we pay attention to, again, the diversity of voice and opinion and experience, and that it doesn’t slide, it doesn’t slide anywhere except for forward. It’s a forward momentum. And that’s something that we’re committed to 365 days a year and that momentum is just going to keep and maybe this year is more just about let’s kick it in even more.”