Oscars boss: Academy rules change not driven by political correctness

Dawn Hudson, CEO, left, and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Photograph: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Political correctness played no part in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s move to double the number of female and black and ethnic minority Oscars voters, say AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson.

Speaking in the wake of the #Oscarssowhite outrage over an all-white acting nominee’s list for a second consecutive year, the pair said that the recent changes to membership regulations were introduced to reflect the “best of film culture”.

“The Academy is tradition-bound, it is rule-bound, it is not trying to be politically correct, never has been,” Hudson told the Hollywood Reporter.

Boone Isaacs and Hudson said they knew this year’s Oscar nominations would cause unrest before they were announced.

“It wasn’t as inclusive as we hoped for the second year,” said Hudson. “The sequel is always bigger … than the original. And we knew we were going to have to speak to this issue.”

“We could not be silent,” said Boone Isaacs. “And we had no reason to be silent. It isn’t a smart thing just to sit back and just sort of let the conver­sation get out of hand when it’s about you. At some point, you need to speak up.”

Boone Isaacs, who became the first black president of AMPAS in 2013, said the membership, which is confidential, includes 7% people of colour and 24% female, an update on a membership breakdown published by the LA Times in 2014. She has committed the organisation to doubling those figures by 2020, though she also suggested that the issue of racial equality stretched far beyond the makeup of the AMPAS membership.

“You can’t win an Academy award if your film is not greenlit,” she said. “You can’t win an Academy award if you weren’t in a particular role in a movie. So it is about opportunity from the very beginning of this process and the inclusion of different voices from the very beginning.”

[Chris Rock photo]

High-profile critics of the all-white nominee list include Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith and Chris Rock, the host of this year’s Oscars ceremony. Boone Isaacs denied that Rock had considered pulling out and implied AMPAS was prepared for the comedian to mock the lack of diversity in the list of nominees.

“This is Chris. We know who he is,” said Boone Isaacs. “He is a brilliant, brilliant, observant comedian and performer, and he is a brilliant host … way before this, our selection of Chris was to bring some edge and some fun and some funny —intelligent funny — to the telecast. So we know he’s going to do that.”

When asked about best actress nominee Charlotte Rampling’s statement that the uproar over a lack of black nominees was “racist to white people”, Hudson said the actor’s comments were mirrored by the disgruntlement some older members’ responses to the new membership criteria.

“Some of these things are generational, they just are,” she said. “And that’s what we’re talking about with the whole Academy. When you pick the best of the best, they are members of our Academy; you just have to make sure, as this generation grows older, you’re bringing in the best of the best of the next generation, and sometimes there is a lag and sometimes there’s not as much reaching out into the next generation.”