By Mark Ehrenkranz
This month, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced the 2018 class, its biggest yet. The organization is extending invitations to 928 people. Among their ranks are the only indisputably good thing about the past year: The Big Sick writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon; god of the Harry Potter universe J.K. Rowling; Black Panther co-stars Danai Gurira and Daniel Kaluuya; comedians Mindy Kaling, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, Ken Jeong, Hannibal Buress, and Dave Chappelle. The potential new class (they’ll need to accept the invitations before it’s official) is 49 percent female, 38 percent people of color — which increases female representation from 28 to 31 percent, and artists’ of color’s representation from 13 to 16 percent.
The Academy has certainly had its challenges over the past few years. Last year, Groundhog Day and The Big Chill cinematographer John Bailey was elected president taking over for Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a film marketing, and public relations executive who served the maximum of four years as Academy president and was the first African American to hold the title. After the 2018 Awards, a complaint of sexual harassment was brought against John Bailey, which eventually was dismissed, and he will continue to serve as the organization’s president.
Despite major changes, some members feel that the environment is fractured and no longer allows for a unified, strategically sound, vision. Reacting only to pressure, AMPAS’ attempts of inclusion never recognizing that this is the Industry’s problem much more than it is the Academy’s. That they failed to contemporize the Oscars into current times despite decades of increased competition and declining ratings. Instead, they have kept to the same number of awards resulting in a tediously lengthy show.
A plus for the Indie/Art House World, over the past decade, they have nominated so many smaller independent films that big Hollywood feels neglected. Even though recently the better films have risen to the top, commercial is not necessarily bad and small is not inherently good. Plus the whole TV and streaming infiltration of theatrical releases for projects traditionally awarded by the Emmys for non-theatrical features.
Among other plans to diversify its ranks, last year, the academy announced it would be actively recruiting new members. Of the 683 inductees, 46 percent were female, which brought the total representation of women in the academy up to 27 percent from 25 percent. People of color made up 41 percent of the new class, which brought the non-white contingent in the academy up to 11 percent from a measly 8 percent.
Every year the Academy branches offer proposed rule changes, which are voted on by the Board. This year’s rule adjustments may not seem major, but can have ramifications down the line — and have made many Oscar campaigners unhappy. The Academy moved to mirror the Best Picture rules in terms of allowing a number of producers for animation and documentaries; that’s a popular decision all around. Other changes are dicier.
In Music categories Original Song and Score, the November 15 submission deadline to create a new preferential shortlist of 15 and will put year-end December releases at a big disadvantage. A second round of balloting will choose five preferential nominees for each. Music is often added at the end of post-production. This will make it challenging for those films to finish and submit in time.
Allowing documentaries to be eligible with a qualifying award at a competitive film festival even if they’ve played non-theatrically — not just a New York and Los Angeles one-week theatrical run — will make a broader swath of documentaries eligible from all over the world, especially lower-budget productions without expensive theatrical distribution. And the Academy is opening the qualifying press outlets that can review the films beyond the New York and Los Angeles Times.
Among the distributors and publicity companies that specialize in campaigning directly to Academy members, “sanctioned” mailings will now be managed by Academy-approved mailing houses provided with official lists of members who have opted in with snail mail and email addresses (many will opt out!). Studios have collected Academy member lists for decades, and consultants earn top dollar for their lists as well. While this may seem to level the playing field, it may wind up placing more emphasis on the personal relationships consultants have with Academy members. There’s a difference between sending materials via mailings and reaching out for screenings and events, where the publicists are used to following up for feedback. That effort will be cut back.
Also, post-nominations screenings attached to a filmmaker Q&A will now be limited to a maximum of four regardless of the category or the location. This rule eliminates the two additional screenings currently allowed for Documentary and Foreign Language Film nominees.
The 91st Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 24, 2019.