AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson

Academy leaders talk about their new membership policy

AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson talk about the recent membership changes at The Academy following the diversity issue in Hollywood

CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (JANUARY 23, 2016) (REUTERS) – After announcing that they were planning to change membership policies for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on Friday (January 22), president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson faced the press at the Producers Guild Awards on Saturday (January 23).

The announcement to introduce new members and strip older members of membership came amid a backlash over the absence of actors or filmmakers of color in this year’s Oscar nominations, prompting some of the film community including Will Smith and his wife Jada, documentary maker Michael Moore and director Spike Lee to shun the ceremony on February 28.

When asked whether the decision to change membership was a difficult one to make, Boone Isaacs said “Not difficult at all” and then laughed. She added her reasons were “primarily because we’ve been having these discussions for a while. The Academy for the past three or four years – even before then but definitely more committed in the past three or four years to diversifying our membership and including people, all sorts of people, young, international, African American, Latino, females, women all across the board, that has been a goal of ours for a while, so it’s not that it’s really new but now we have come out and actually are speaking about it.”

There have been arguments from Hollywood insiders that it is the film industry and not The Academy that is to blame for the ongoing diversity issue. However, CEO Dawn Hudson admitted they weren’t afraid to take the flak for it.

“We’re happy to take that,” she stated. “We’re happy to take our leadership role in this community and say ‘Look, we’re committed for our house to be in order. We’re committed to have our house reflect the best of the best and the best of the best means a very diverse talent, a diverse pool of talent. The Academy is committed to that.’ We hope all of our members, who are making films who are crewing up are just as committed with their work but we wanted to make a stand with The Academy first. That’s what we can control.”

Ex-basketball player and commentator on social issues Kareem Abdul-Jabbar turned out at the event and reacted to the changes that The Academy has made.

He said “I’m anxious to find out what changes come about because of it and I think it’s the beginning of a discussion and we’ll see. I’m glad that they’re trying something to make a difference and to be more inclusive. That makes sense to me and hopefully it will be an ongoing discussion.”

Steve Golin, producer of both ‘The Revenant’ and ‘Spotlight’ in the Best Picture category of The Academy Awards, admitted that he felt the decision was made too quickly.

“I mean, The Academy did something and I think they did it as a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “They had to do something and they did it really quickly but the problem… the issue needs to be studied in more detail and thought about and more conversation rather than going to one meeting and pass a few rules. I think this is a very complex issue from a business side and I think it needs to be looked at by people and those decisions are not made quickly.”

‘Harry Potter’ producer David Heyman was at the event to receive the David O. Selznick Achievement Award. He felt that the diversity issue has a very simple solution.

“I think that frankly some of it is just not thinking,” he said. “I think yes, we’re in a place where people are fairly conservative and don’t take risks and people try to have an idea of what is commercial and trying to fit into it as opposed to telling stories that are truthful and come from the heart. But ultimately I don’t think it’s an aggressive exclusion, I think that my sense is that it’s people not thinking and not making the effort and I think that’s what needs to change.”

Mary Parent, one of the producers of ‘The Revenant’ admitted it’s easy not to realise the lack of diversity in the business, saying “I look at myself as a person rather than a woman and so I don’t really focus on it that way but then when I step back and see the statistics, it’s hard not to pay attention to it. I don’t know if I’m explaining it that well, but I don’t see it on a day to day basis and whether it’s because I choose not to see it or just to push past it but then again when you look at the statistics and you look at the numbers and then again more opportunities have to be created.”

The Producers Guild Awards took place in Century City, Los Angeles.