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Oscar takes a first, cosmetic step with diversity reform

Chris Rock is hosting this year's Oscars, or as he tweeted: "The white BET awards."

AP photos

Chris Rock is hosting this year's Oscars, or as he tweeted: "The white BET awards."



And the Oscar for best achievement in makeup goes to... the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for a rushed attempt Friday to conceal its bruised image.

Pilloried for a week after its nominations exposed a lack of diversity in membership and thinking, the academy announced its first steps addressing the issue - none making much difference to moviegoers.

Those are the folks tuning in to ABC's telecast, making big ad bucks for the academy, and who spent a record $11 billion at box offices last year.

Friday's announced changes don't affect this year's awards at all. In a culture of both instant indignation and gratification, not offering the general public anything except tweaks to an already insular system isn't enough.

Without changes to the nomination process - specifically the number of nominees in major categories - the academy isn't doing anything to make moviegoers feel better about caring who wins. Or stay tuned after Chris Rock's monologue puts everything in perspective.

Here's what the academy decreed, and what's read between the lines:

The academy will add three more seats to the now-51 member board of governors making decisions like the ones that got us here. Even if all three are members of color, a 6 percent increase isn't much extra input for what isn't working.

The academy committed to doubling the membership numbers of women and non-white members by 2020. At last reported count, membership is 94 percent white and 77 percent male.

The academy will ensure every voting members has been "active" in the film industry within the last 10 years. No more automatic lifetime privileges. What "active" means isn't spelled out in the academy's statement - making a movie? mentoring? - but should weed out some archaic attitudes. Again, the move doesn't count this year.

There's also smoke blown about "an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity." Global? There's more cultural flavor in the foreign language film category than 23 others.The problem is right here at home.

Again, nothing proposed about expanding major categories - say, 10 slots in the four acting races, director and picture - that would increase chances of smaller pockets of support to be heard. A candidate like Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), whose performance was in the best actor discussion for months could make the final ballot, and who knows from there?

Earlier the academy announced it would propose changes sometime next week. An emergency board of governors meeting Thursday night decided the matter Thursday night, and unanimously.

Perhaps too soon, but certainly too liittle and late.

[Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2016 7:31pm]


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