The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has announced the 395 new members invited to be part of the organization that determines the Oscars. They come from 50 countries, including Australia, reflecting a remarkable shift in Hollywood’s attitude to the outside world.
The first Oscar was presented in 1929, to Emil Jannings, for his work as a lead actor in The last order and The path of all flesh. He was a German actor temporarily drawn to Hollywood, a rock in a vortex that sucked people from all over the world to build America’s imagination. The award also (allegedly) symbolized much of the intrigue and art of selling that underpins the Oscars – the first winner of the Best Actor award was apparently Rin Tin Tin, so the award went to the highest numbers. of votes given to a real human being. Indeed, we can go even further, as Jannings left after the talkies revealed his German accent, so he did The blue angel with Dietrich in Germany, starred in Nazi propaganda films, was kicked out of the industry after 1945, and was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. These are the twists and turns and trials of fame .
The structure of the Academy has come to emulate so many exclusive and reactionary clubs. Seventeen different professions, all requiring enough credits to be honored, voted on categories and chose new candidates for the Academy, proposed by two members. These names were then filtered by the Academy’s main board of directors which was filled out by invitation. Previous Oscar winners were automatically accepted.
Watching films to vote became increasingly difficult, as active members could be scattered around the world, while many were not citizens of the United States at all. They could see the films when they were released or at special screenings in major designated centers across the United States. With the invention of VHS, packages arrived in mailboxes from Kansas to Kazakhstan.
It got a lot easier with DVDs, which were a lot easier to duplicate. Major Australian screens were slipping away to watch stacks of home movies, stealthily lest they be stolen, in private in case they grew into big poppies.
Eventually everyone realized that this gang of success stories was mostly pale, stale, and masculine, as the great candidates were either ignored or left out entirely. In 2009, the Academy was working to reform its cumbersome voting procedures. Fiddling on the Edges in 2012 just brought out the horrible truth that the members didn’t actually watch every movie they judged, and weren’t even sent in full. In a strange parochial spirit, all films in competition had to be reviewed by the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times.
The drop in ratings and the shaking of the sponsors added to the feeling of panic. It didn’t help that the films were backed by huge, sophisticated harassment campaigns as a tactic by an unknown peddler called Harvey Weinstein. As moralists hammered on doors, organizers were sweating over the brazen rise of streaming companies.
In 2014, annoying reporters discovered that 94% of voters were white, 77% were men, and the average age was 63. The younger ones were too busy. At the very beginning of 2016, the Academy changed the rules so that members had to be active in the industry at least once every ten years. They added new members to the board and started a global hunt for more diverse members.
Weeks later, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, looking like a pair of old, unlubricated puppets, announced La La Land as winner of the best picture, until the organizers realized that the prize really belonged to Moonlight. Who is both black and LGBTQ. Times were really changing.
We’ve left out the early protests of wiser artists, the sheer amount of organization, and the ongoing back and forth about the rules. The result is these 395 new members this year. A colorful report published by AMPAS names new members for each branch and includes statistics highlighting the organization’s hard efforts to address the lack of diversity.
Remarkably, this seems to mark the end of a long journey in which international artists are mainly honored when they turn around Hollywood. Australian film artists are being honored for films that never even made it to the American exhibition circuit – surely a tremendous symbol of change.
Guests include actor and director Wayne Blair, who will join the Directing branch, in recognition of his films as Sapphires and High end Wedding.
The producers of these two films, Rosemary Blight of Goalpost and Kylie Du Fresne, join the production branch, as does Darren Dale of Blackfella Films, with his documentaries Deep water: the real story and The big man recognized.
Composer and musician Amanda Brown joins the Music branch, with her work for the famous Baby teeth and Red obsession mentionned. Brown’s name was proposed to AMPAS by English composer Gary Yershon who was nominated for Mr. Turner.
Speaking to IF about the invitation, Brown said: “At first I wondered why a respected British composer on the other side of the world contacted me to be represented at the Academy? I naturally wondered if there was a ‘token’ element; obviously there was a broad push to diversify the Academy in terms of gender and ethnicity. I was not sure how I felt about it. This topic at first. Then I thought, “Well, you know what? This is an organization that has recognized that it has to change, and a place at the table is not to be sneezed at.”
Costume designer Margot Wilson was also a guest (Le Rossignol, the seamstress), VFX artists Genevieve Camilleri and Matt Everitt, who were nominated for an Oscar this year for Love and monsters, and Charles Williams who joined the Short Film and Animation Branch after his film All these creatures won the Palme d’Or for short film at Cannes 2018.
In the Marketing and Public Relations division, we have Victoria Treole, now far from the Australian bureaucracy on screen.
The full list of 2021 New Member Invitations is here.