Academy Answers Questions About Its New Initiatives

Oscars So White Illo - H 2016
Courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.

Oscars So White Illo - H 2016

"We are not excluding older members," the Academy says.

Having adopted new rules about how members retain eligibility to vote for the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Monday posted a series of answers to the most frequently asked questions about the new moves on its website. "We're not excluding older members," the Academy said, going on to add, "These rules are not about age." It went on to say that the rules have been designed "to strengthen, uphold, and maintain the credibility of the Oscars."

In its Jan. 22 announcement of changes to its membership and governance rules, the Academy said that among its new initiatives to promote diversity, it would review each member's voting status every 10 years. Members who are active in the film industry will have their voting rights renewed for another 10-year term. But only members who have held voting rights for three 10-year terms or who have been nominated for or won an Oscar will be granted lifetime voting rights.

The initial announcement did not explain how the Academy would determine if a member is "active" in the industry, raising concerns among some older and/or retired members that they might lose their voting rights.

Lorenza Munoz, managing director for membership and awards, sent out an email to the Academy's membership on Monday in which she explained, "These new measures are meant to uphold our longstanding mission that Oscars are voted on by active members in the motion picture industry." The email included a link to a FAQ page on the website that offered more detail on how the new initiatives would work.

Saying that the new voting regulations were not designed to exclude older members because of their age, the Academy insisted, "many veteran Academy members will retain voting privileges."

It further explained that the three 10-year periods during which a member must work before achieving lifetime voting rights don't have to be consecutive. And it laid out one theoretical scenario under which a member who joined the Academy in 1980 could fulfill the three-decade requirement by working just three times over the course of 12 years — once in 1989, once during the '90s and once more in 2001.

As for the phrase "active in motion pictures," the Academy said that a member's involvement would be judged by fellow members of each branch, but would not be dependent on earning screen credits as long as that member was employed in the movie industry in some fashion.

If a member loses active voting privileges and is moved to emeritus status, he or she will not necessarily lose the right to receive screeners, the Academy reassured its members. Although the Academy pointed out that it does not itself distribute the screeners, which are sent out by production companies and distributors. "We will ask our members who run the production companies not to make an issue of it," the Academy said. The Academy also said it would not reveal who was moved from active voting status to emeritus status to the companies that send out the screeners.

In terms of the other initiatives, the Academy said that the three new governors who will be appointed by the president by February will be women and people of color. It also said that it is now "actively recruiting new members" and inviting members who are not on the board of governors to sit on the organization's various committees.

As it goes about recruiting new members, the Academy said, "We are not lowering any standards, we are widening our net."

The FAQs posted by the Academy follow:

Why is the Academy excluding older members from voting?

We’re not excluding older members. Everyone will retain membership.

But won’t older members lose their opportunity to vote for the Oscars?

These rules are not about age. In fact, under the new rules many veteran Academy members will retain voting rights.

I thought you had to work in the last 10 years in order to vote.

Working in the last 10 years is one way to ensure you have voting privileges. Another way is to have been nominated for an Oscar. And a third way is to show that since you were admitted as a member you’ve worked in motion pictures during three 10-year periods. This means that the longer your career, the more likely you’ll qualify for voting.

So we have to have worked for 30 years to keep the vote?

No. Let’s say you were admitted to the Academy in 1980 and you worked on one film in 1989. That covers you for your first 10 years. Then you worked once in the ’90s, which covers you for your second 10-year term, and once again in 2001 for your third 10-year term. That’s only a 12-year period, but you have worked in the three 10-year terms of your membership, so you’d qualify as an active member with voting status.

Do these 10-year terms have to be consecutive?

No, they do not.

How do you define “active in motion pictures?”

You must be employed in the same kinds of quality films that got you into the Academy in the first place. Your status will be assessed by your peers in your branch — the people who best understand the intricacies of the motion picture industry and your field. The intention is to be inclusive.

What about some of us — such as writers and producer — who work steadily but without screen credit?

Achievement is achievement, regardless of whether or not there is a screen credit. Additionally, members will have an opportunity to appeal their situation.

What if the work I’ve done is not in my branch?

If an editor becomes a director, or a director becomes a producer, or an actor sells a screenplay, that’s all employment in the movie industry, and it still qualifies.

What happens if I don’t qualify?

You move to emeritus status, which means you have all the benefits of membership except voting. You continue to receive screeners and you are still invited to Academy membership screenings and programs, but you no longer pay dues.

And what happens if I become active again after having been moved to emeritus status?

Upon review of your request, you can be reinstated as an active member with voting rights.

If I’m moved to emeritus status, does that mean I’ll no longer get screeners?

You are still eligible to receive screeners. The Academy does not distribute screeners. Production companies and studios do. We will ask our members who run these companies not to make an issue of it. Rest assured, your status — whether active or emeritus — will not be shared with any other outside entity.

So why make these changes at all?

We want the Oscars to be voted on by people who are currently working in motion pictures, or who have been active for a long time. There are a number of Academy members, however, who had brief careers and left the business. We want to strengthen, uphold and maintain the credibility of the Oscars with these new criteria. Voting for the Oscars is a privilege of membership, not a right.

What about all the other changes you announced?

The other changes are aimed at increasing diversity in our membership and governance. Under our bylaws, the board is directed to periodically review our criteria for voting status and membership. This has happened in the past and this is one of those times. Diversity has been an ongoing discussion for many years.

What about the changes on the board?

We’ve created three new governor seats, to be nominated by the president and voted on by the board. These three seats will be filled by women and people of color, and the changes will take place in February.

What is the plan for new recruitment?

We will be actively recruiting new members. We’re also adding non-governor seats to the six board committees that oversee all Academy activity. And we’re reforming the executive committees by which each branch conducts its business; these are the committees that decide whom to invite for membership. We will maintain high standards and continue to admit only those with substantial achievements. The concern has been that a lot of highly qualified potential members were falling outside our radar. Many thought they had to wait to be invited, and didn’t know they could apply for membership, through a sponsorship process.

But why lower standards to get new members?

We are not lowering any standards, we’re widening our net. All of these are substantive changes that will open up our governance to a wider range of members and have a significant and positive impact on the Academy. The result will be a membership that is more inclusive of the motion picture community, governance that is more representative of our membership and a stronger Academy overall.