Hollywood’s Old Guard Is Still Reeling from the #OscarsSoWhite Controversy

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British accents, corseted starlets, tortured artists. Movies that cater
to Hollywood’s Anglophilia and high self-regard always have done well at
the Oscars—or, as former host Chris Rock called them in his 2016
monologue, “The White People’s Choice Awards.”

But over the last two years, after enduring criticism of its all-white
slates of acting nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences invited 1,457 new people to join, which could add some 20
percent to its membership rolls and recruit the largest, most
demographically diverse classes in its 90-year history. As the most
exclusive club in Hollywood has become more inclusive, a question is
reverberating through town. “What is an awards movie anymore?” asked
one Oscar strategist, who plots a course of screenings, parties, and
for-your-consideration ads for a major film studio. “Who actually is
the Academy membership? What do they like?”

In June, such newcomers as comedian Leslie Jones, action star Dwayne
Johnson, and actor Adam Driver were added, as well as lesser-known
artists, including a documentarian in India (Anand Patwardhan), a
cinematographer in China (Zhao Xiaoding), and a director in Hungary
(Ildikó Enyedi). “There are those who feel that Hollywood is elitist,”
the Academy’s newly elected president, cinematographer John Bailey, told
me. “But things have been changing so much, with the diversity and
international outreach.”

The change has maddened some long-timers, who say the new entry
standards are lower—they no doubt had to walk barefoot in the snow
uphill both ways on Wilshire to collect their first membership cards.
But amid the fist-shaking, Hollywood still is asking the same questions:
What do I have to do to win an Oscar? Whose rings do I have to kiss?
What red carpets do I have to walk? Where will I have to eat canapés
with voters?

Demographics aren’t destiny, and plenty of white members voted for Barry
Jenkins’s black coming-of-age drama, Moonlight, to earn the Academy’s
top prize in February. But this year there are films that could see
their fortunes shift. Some international members might gravitate toward
Angelina Jolie’s Cambodia-set war drama, First They Killed My Father.
New members of color could cast a ballot for Jordan Peele’s horror
social commentary, Get Out, or Dee Rees’s Mississippi-set saga,
Mudbound. The increase in women could be good for Patty Jenkins’s Wonder
Woman
and for Emma Stone’s portrayal of Billie Jean King in Battle of
the Sexes.
And two British World War II films that would have been
catnip to voters of yore, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour and Christopher
Nolan’s Dunkirk, might land with less power. What about Meryl Streep?
Will today’s voters give her a 21st nomination next year for playing
Washington Post publisher Kay Graham in Steven Spielberg’s press-freedom
drama, The Post?

The influx of far-flung members also has had some unintended
consequences for the companies wishing to court them. Distributors must
now subtitle their screeners in more languages—one awards strategist
recommends French, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Japanese, Mandarin, and
Cantonese. And the standard locations for events—influencer screenings
on L.A.’s West Side, contender lunches on New York’s Upper East
Side—seem sadly narrow when staring at a list of member addresses in
Beijing, Mumbai, Harlem, and Echo Park. It’s a brave new Academy—so
long as everyone is able to participate in the awards-season bacchanal.
“The Academy forgot any part of the administrative and logistical
issues that apply to this, which is, how are people going to see the
films?” said one awards strategist. “I am not screening this in Kuala
Lumpur.”

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