What do Jenny on the Block, a freshly minted studio exec and Machete have in common? They are all new invitees to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The academy announced Friday that it had invited 276 people to join its ranks, including singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, newly appointed Warner Bros. Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara and tough-guy actor Danny Trejo, in addition to a number of other minorities and women in an increased effort to diversify its membership.
In the actors branch, Kimberly Elise ("Beloved"), Paula Patton ("Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol") and Michael Peña ("End of Watch") are among the 22 invitees.
Directors Steve McQueen ("Shame"), Pablo Larrain ("No") and Catherine Hardwicke ("Twilight") were sent invitations along with 12 others, including Todd Phillips ("The Hangover") and Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids"). Lena Dunham ("Tiny Furniture"), John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side") and Sarah Polley ("Away From Her") are three of the 13 writers asked to join the organization responsible for the film industry's annual Academy Awards.
As a whole, the new invitees represent a change in policy at the academy, which at the end of last year removed its quota requirement that had been in place since 2004. The academy has about 5,800 voting members; in recent years, fewer than 200 people have been invited to join annually. The number of openings had been determined by how many members had retired, resigned or died. In the last decade, the overall ranks have not grown by more than 30 members a year. By and large, those invited to join the academy do so (although actor Viggo Mortensen and writer-director Woody Allen are two notable exceptions).
The new policy has been championed by academy President Hawk Koch, who has made it a priority during his one-year tenure to diversify the branches of the organization. "I spoke with every single branch committee, and I said, 'Please take a look and see if there are people of diversity: gender, age, race, etc., and see if any of them meet our criteria. If they do, if they are the best of the best in that particular branch, then maybe you'll want to take them in,'" he said. "I'm excited and I'm proud because it's a great list. It's very inclusive. They are a talented and diverse group of artists and filmmakers."
A Los Angeles Times study published last year found that academy voters were markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may have suspected.
At the time of the study, Oscar voters were nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks made up about 2% of the academy and Latinos numbered fewer than 2%. Oscar voters had a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constituted just 14% of the membership.
Despite the likely addition of such older performers as musician Prince, lead actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour") and veteran actor Charles Grodin, the academy also tried to bring younger members into its fold. Actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 32, Jack Huston, 30, and actress-writer-director Lena Dunham, 27, are part of that shift. No surprise that the newly announced members took to Twitter to show their appreciation, with Dunham writing, "Pretty thrilling. Thank you so much. This is making up for the trials of middle school."
To filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who was chosen by both the writer and director branches for membership — one of only three invitees to hold that honor, all of whom will have to choose one branch to join — the invitation is a big deal.
"I'm a movie geek and it's the academy. You can't act cool. It's awesome," she said of the invitation. But the filmmaker, who recently helmed an ESPN documentary on Venus Williams titled "Venus Vs.," is also heartened to be a part of a list that features a more diversified group of people.
"I look at that list and I see a lot of people of color and a lot of women and I say, 'Bravo.' It's a list that more accurately reflects real life. I'm happy to be included."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun