On Thursday morning, when the Academy revealed the names of the people whom its branches have invited to join their ranks for the coming Oscar season, one thing was abundantly clear: This is a very different list than every other of its sort that the Academy has ever sent out, save for last year’s. Why? Because it reflects a clear desire, on the part of Hollywood’s most prestigious awards-dispensing group, to shed its image as a club of old white American men, and to become younger, hipper and more diverse and worldly — as quickly as possible.
For instance, among this year’s 271 potential new members are 20 actors, 13 of whom are in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Only five are middle-aged (53-year-old star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and character actors Clancy Brown, 55, Beth Grant, 64, Clark Gregg, 53 and Joel McKinnon Miller, 54), and only two are officially seniors (65-year-old David Strathairn, who was a best actor Oscar nominee for Good Night, and Good Luck eight years ago, and 84-year-old character actress June Squibb, who was a best supporting actress Oscar nominee this year for Nebraska).
Additionally, across the categories, there is a heavy presence of invitees who are widely regarded by art house and/or cineplex moviegoers as cool, and whose ballots will probably be more in tune with the zeitgeist than many longtime members. The actors welcomed Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Chris Rock and Jason Statham. The writers brought on Steve Coogan. Brothers Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass were recruited by the directors. The producers brought on Megan Ellison. And the music branch, which, in some ways, has been the most “out of touch” of all the branches — see this year’s nomination of “Alone Yet Not Alone” over songs by Lana Del Rey — invited bona fide stars Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam, and the man with the hat, Pharrell Williams.
In addition to Nyong’o, Rock and Williams, there is a refreshing presence of other highly accomplished minorities throughout the list — smart and edgy filmmakers like director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees), writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and lenser Bradford Young (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pariah and the forthcoming A Most Violent Year), who really should have been invited to join years ago.
Speaking of which, the list of foreign filmmakers asked to join this year is rather jaw-dropping, if only because I assumed many of them had been casting Oscar ballots for a long time already — in some cases, decades. Hayao Miyazaki? Chantal Akerman? Claire Denis? Hany Abu-Assad? Thomas Vinterberg? Denis Villeneuve? Jean-Marc Vallee? Paolo Sorrentino? Are you kidding me?! What took you so long, Academy?! I guess it’s never too late to become a little more worldly.
Beyond that, I could quibble with a name here or a name there. (Which great film performance convinced the actors branch to extend one of its fewer than two dozen invitations this year to Rob Riggle, whose best work was done on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart? And can one really justify inviting Captain Phillips star Barkhad Abdi, as lovely as he may be, on the basis of just one big screen performance?) But the bottom line is that the Academy is, by and large, moving in the right direction by adding this crop of new folks to the more than six thousand members they already had, and for that they deserve to be commended.