"Older White Male" Oscar Voter: "I Have Earned the Right to Have My Voice Heard" (Guest Column)

Sam Weisman, the director of 'The Out-of-Towners' and an active mentor, sees his life's work being devalued by new Academy rules.
Sam Weisman (left), 'Straight Outta Compton' (right)  SGranitz/WireImage; Courtesy of Jaimie Trueblood/Universal Pictures

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Academy’s desire to respond to the "white Oscars" crisis deserves praise. I fail to see, however, in what way the abrupt action taken by the board last week will change the workings of the film business, which of necessity, are financially driven.

The current stress the Academy (and the entire business) is under regarding the diversity issue is troubling, to be sure. However, as an older white male currently in the crosshairs, and one of a group generally being blamed for a lack of nominees of color, I wish to add my voice to others who feel wrongfully attacked. I also wish to make a case for my relevance.

I have been a member of the Academy’s directors branch since 1998. Though I am on the tail end of a life in the entertainment business, I am proud of having worked as an actor, director and producer, in theater, television and film, since 1972, when I joined Actors' Equity for my first professional job.

I have served multiple terms on the East Coast Council of the DGA, and been a delegate to the national convention several times. In my home state of Massachusetts, I was chairman of the state's Sports and Entertainment Commission, which had oversight over the state film office and its production tax credit.

My film work has been honored with a British Academy Award nomination, and other awards. In television, I have won a Golden Globe and a Humanitas Prize; I have been nominated for multiple Emmys; I have been a finalist for a DGA award.

I have judged the Student Oscars, and for many years, have been a reader for the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

I have also taught and lectured to scores of young people over the years at Harvard University, Brandeis University, Emerson College, USC and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Above all, I am a film enthusiast. I love everything that goes into making good work. I see as many films as I can, attend film festivals to be exposed to new talent and talk about film with friends and family — most of whom are not in the industry.

I have earned the right to have my voice heard, and being a voting member of the Academy is an important way for me to affirm my life experience.

On my Oscar nomination ballot (I can weigh in on the picture and director categories), I vote for the pictures and directors that I want to vote for. I see films, regardless of who is in them and who makes them. I am not the audience for award campaigning, as I live away from L.A.

I liked a bunch of films from this past year, but let's cut to the chase. I loved Will Smith in Concussion (as well as other actors in the film), but I don't nominate actors. Straight Outta Compton and Creed were two of this old white male's favorite films in 2015 — I paid to see both films in the theater, and I truly liked both. Because of the Academy rules, I am unable to state whether I placed either film (or the two directors) on my nominating ballot, but suffice to say, I really liked them.

I would love to know, and would think it important to know:

1. How many "old white men" like me placed these films and/or its artists on their ballots? 

2. How many of the people attacking us old folks even see the films eligible for awards recognition?

3. Why am I being hung out to dry because I grew up when I did, worked my tail off and made enough of a success of myself to be invited to join the Academy?

4. What makes my life experience not worthy of an active place in the Academy?

I respect the efforts of anyone who succeeds in the business, but come on, industry leaders: Do we really want the world to think there's a conspiracy being carried out by older white males to not give awards to artists of color? Do we really think people like me, who came of age in the '60s, want to limit the opportunities of anyone in our industry?

The world at large has no idea how any of these awards are adjudicated. They should know. But maybe the effort to explain the Academy's nomination and voting system is just too hard. I know the average layperson's eyes glaze over in the first 10 seconds of an attempt at explanation. Maybe getting rid of the "weighted voting system" is a better notion than getting rid of older people, now being thought of openly as "dead weight."

The public should also be reminded that Hollywood is a freelance, dog-eat-dog world, and it always will be, for everyone, of all backgrounds. Many people still think the movie business is made up of studios filled with worker bees who have full-time jobs. Would that it were the case.

If the Academy decrees I am no longer worthy of active member status, they are losing a person of value, who has cheered on and supported innumerable actors, directors, writers, musicians and all artists of diverse backgrounds. They are losing a person of relevance, and a person who cares about talent, craft and process. Above all, the Academy is losing a mentor. 

My hope is that the person taking my place gets better treatment years from now.

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