Oscars race row: Is everyone getting a fair shot? Obama asks

Oscars race row: Is everyone getting a fair shot? Obama asks

US president Barack Obama has spoken about the outcry over two straight years of all-white acting nominees for the Academy Awards.

Mr Obama says the Oscars debate was an expression of a broader issue, saying: “Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”

The president was talking to local television stations about stepping up enrolment for health insurance coverage, but Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC asked him about this year’s Oscars controvery.

Some are calling for a boycott of this year’s Academy Awards on February 28 because no acting nominees were black.

Mr Obama said the film industry should do what others practised – “look for talent and provide opportunity to everybody”.

Meanwhile, reforms meant to calm a crisis seem to have only further inflamed the situation.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ decision to alter membership rules following the row over the diversity of its voters and nominees sparked another uproar around Hollywood, with many academy members saying the new measures unjustly scapegoat older colleagues and imply they are racist.

Fiery letters have poured into the academy, trade magazines are littered with critical opinion pieces from members and civil rights leaders and others say the academy’s actions did not go far enough.

“We all have to calm down a bit. The conversation has become unduly vitriolic,” said Rod Lurie, the writer-director of Straw Dogs and The Contender and a member of the academy’s directors’ branch.

“Nobody in the academy should dignify any accusations of racism but there obviously are biases that are created by the demographics of the academy.”

The academy’s 51-member board of governors unanimously voted to revamp membership rules in an effort to change the make-up of the largely white, male and older association of some 7,000 exclusive members.

Though Oscar voting was previously for life, it will now be restricted to members who have been active in the industry within the past 10 years, with a few exceptions such as for previous Oscar nominees. The academy also set a goal to double minority and women members by 2020.

Studies have shown that minorities remain under-represented in all levels of the movie business, from protagonists on screen to executives who can green-light a film.

But the last two years are something of an aberration in recent Oscar history. In the last 10 years 24 of the 200 acting nominees were black. Far less is the rate of nods for Hispanics or Asian-Americans, however.

William Goldstein, a composer and long-time academy member, chastised the academy in a Los Angeles Times editorial for “capitulating to political correctness” while missing the bigger picture.

He believes outreach and mentor programmes will make a difference rather than manipulating demographics.

“The set of voters that they’re going to get rid of have seen more movies and have more context in which to judge something than any newbie coming into the academy,” he said.

“You can bring in more women, you can bring in more anybody. Everybody’s a human being. They’re going to vote what they’re going to vote. Nothing’s going to change.”

In a letter to the academy, Stephen Geller, a member of the writers branch and screenwriter of Slaughterhouse-Five, accused academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs of “grey-listing” its older members.

And Stephen Furst, the 60-year-old actor and academy member best known as Flounder from Animal House, wrote to the academy lamenting “the insulting and unfounded generalities the academy has made about the character and judgment of older academy members”.

James Woods, the 68-year-old, twice-nominated actor, went further, saying on Twitter: “The motion picture academy announced separate bathroom facilities today: one for Members and one for Old White People.”

The academy responded indirectly in the “frequently asked questions” section of its website, saying: “We’re not excluding older members. These rules are not about age. In fact, under the new rules many veteran academy members will retain voting privileges.”

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