Gire: Minority quotas? How to fix Oscar's diversity problem

  • Writer/director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan talk on the set of the acclaimed drama "Creed," which earned only one Oscar nomination: Sylvester Stallone for supporting actor.

    Writer/director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan talk on the set of the acclaimed drama "Creed," which earned only one Oscar nomination: Sylvester Stallone for supporting actor.

 
 
Posted1/22/2016 5:26 AM

Old white guys have been running Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since their inceptions.

Now, like Claude Raines' police chief in "Casablanca," people are Shocked! Shocked! that not a single African-American received a directing or acting nomination in the 88th annual Oscars.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

All because Academy voters -- roughly 90 percent white and 75 percent male according to L.A. Times estimates -- did exactly what they did last year: nominate an all-white slate for the director and performer nominations.

Most people probably agree that improving the Oscars so they reflect the more diverse world of 21st-century filmmakers is a good idea.

But old, white male biases are deeply entrenched in Hollywood. The best way, perhaps the only way, to achieve improvement would be to shake up the voters' ages, races and genders.

Academy President Gregory Peck tried that in the 1960s when he and the Board of Governors disenfranchised members (many retired) to youthen-ize the group's average age. Peck also brought in younger members.

Yet, here we are 50 years later. The Academy still struggles not only with racial diversity but with gender equality, even prejudice against comedies for Best Picture.

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In defense of the Academy voters, it's not as if inferior white nominees took the recognition that should have gone to better nonwhite filmmakers and stars.

Faced with many candidates of relatively equal excellence, the older, white-male-dominated Academy allowed bias to tilt the scales. That's the insidious nature of bias. It's invisible.

To address this issue quickly and effectively, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (once the only African-American member of the Academy's board of governors) and the board must implement two types of justice to rebalance the scales.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They must establish a sense of restorative justice (also called corrective justice) by ensuring minority filmmakers are recognized in the nominations next year.

The most radical approach would be that for the 89th Oscars only, members must vote for nonwhite nominees in the director and performing categories. Or, taking a less drastic cue from affirmative action, a certain number of nonwhite nominees can be mandated to each category, the same way that universities diversify student bodies by enacting incentives and setting minority quotas.

What? Not fair?

Let's ask "Hateful Eight" star Samuel L. Jackson if he thinks this year's all-white nominations are "fair."

Or "Concussion" star Will Smith or "Creed" director Ryan Coogler or actor Michael B. Jordan or "Beasts of No Nation" actor Idris Elba or even "Selma" director Ava DuVernay or actor David Oyelowo, snubbed last year.

Second, Boone Isaacs and the board must establish a sense of procedural justice for fairness in future voting. The best way to ensure this would be to create a more diverse voting pool that accurately reflects the true Hollywood workforce.

To help achieve that, members who retire or go inactive should be removed from the voting rosters. Only active, working filmmakers who know what's going on in Hollywood should be able to vote.

This would instantly rebalance the absurdly disproportionate white-guys/everyone-else ratio.

As Spike Lee said earlier this week, the Academy's 6,000-plus membership can't be changed "hocus-pocus, presto-chango."

True, but the fastest way to improve diversity in the Academy membership is to start doing it now.

The deadline for 2016 Academy membership proposals is Thursday, March 24.

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