Just when the Oscars had become more diverse over the past few years, it seems they are now back to square one, with no African-American contenders among this year’s twenty acting nominations. The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has admitted that its membership is 90% white and about 75% male, and that many members do not even participate in the industry anymore. The organization has pledged to diversify the membership, and even weed out the inactives, but that is a process that arguably could take years.
A quicker method might be to raise the number of acting nominations in each category from five to six. That might increase the odds. This was done a few years ago for the best picture category, which stood at five nominations for decades, but this year includes eight. It is possible under current academy rules for ten films to be nominated. That was of course a marketing ploy, for the television ratings for the Oscar show had slipped recently, and while the broadcast of the award ceremony is not exactly at the stage of fighting for survival, it is fighting for relevance among an increasingly younger audience.
But it is that issue of relevance that disturbs the conservatives, who don’t want to see the awards “diluted” to a grab bag event or reduced to a cultural quota system. The Oscars might then resemble the Grammys, which currently offers nearly 80 categories. In the Grammys, several genres have their own “best” award and there are four “general” award categories. Every one goes home happy, it seems, and the music industry has operated comfortably with much more diversity than the film industry for quite some time, though there is some occasional in-fighting.
Could color-blind casting be an ultimate solution? This is already done in professional theater, why not try it in big budget movie making? Or would this shatter the illusion of realism a bit too hard? For the moment we seem to be a culture of sub-cultures.