Academy's Newly Invited Members Include Recent Oscar Winners, Overlooked Vets and Question Marks

Oscar Statue at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - Getty-H 2019
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a private organization and can do as it pleases as long as it adheres to its own bylaws — but that has never stopped much of the industry, and indeed the world, from closely observing and opining about everything it does. Such is life for what is essentially Hollywood's student council.

One thing everyone has an opinion about is the Academy's membership, and specifically who should and shouldn't be invited to join it. Monday morning brought this year's list of invitations, which includes 842 names, so let the chatter begin.

Most would agree that it makes sense to invite people who did excellent enough work to garner Oscar nominations or wins during the most recent awards season. This year, such courtesy was extended to, among others, Roma supporting actress nominee Marina de Tavira (although, a bit oddly, not Roma lead actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio, who was eligible for an invite, despite this being her first film role, because of her nom), The Favourite cinematographer nominee Robbie Ryan, Free Solo documentary feature winner Jimmy Chin (his wife and co-winner Chai Vasarhelyi was already a member) and Skin live-action short winner Guy Nattiv (although not his wife and co-winner Jaime Ray Newman). Multiple branches invited A Star Is Born's Lady Gaga (acting and music) and the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (directors and short films and feature animation), and they will have to pick one or the other.

Notably not invited by any branch: Nick Vallelonga, who won best picture and best original screenplay Oscars for Green Book. My initial assumption was that he was left out because neither the producers branch nor the writers branch wanted to be associated with him as a result of the exposure of an anti-Muslim tweet that he posted in 2015 — but, upon further consideration, I'm not so sure, since those branches also declined to invite Brian Currie, who shared in both of those Oscar wins. Green Book is, however, represented on the invitation list by another producer, Charles B. Wessler, as well as cinematographer Sean Porter and composer Kris Bowers.

Many would be surprised to learn that a bunch of people who were invited on Monday were not already members, such as screen legends Claire Bloom (Look Back in Anger, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The King's Speech) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (A Man and a Woman, Three Colors: Red, Amour), as well as fellow actors Jamie Bell, Tom Hollander, Andrea Riseborough and Olivia Williams — and Melanie Laurent (Beginners, Inglourious Basterds), who was, interestingly, invited to join the directors branch, but not the actors branch.

Informed industry insiders will also find it odd that it wasn't until Monday that the Academy invited writers Andrew Haigh (Weekend and 45 Years), Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married) and Diana Ossana (Brokeback Mountain); producers Neal Dodson (frequent collaborator of J.C. Chandor), Helen Estabrook (Jason Reitman), Emma Koskoff (Martin Scorsese) and John Lesher (Alejandro G. Inarritu); casting director Alexa Fogel; documentarian Matt Tyrnauer; composer Rupert Gregson-Williams; Oscar-winning songwriter Annie Lennox; and executives Molly Smith, Kimberly Steward and Brad Weston, to name just a few.

With the possible exception of actors, directors and writers, there is no group of people in Hollywood whose work I myself am more familiar with than marketing and public relations specialists, so I can vouch for the fact that, this cycle, that branch added a lot of heavyweight reps — personal (e.g. Robin Baum, Simon Halls, Melissa Kates, Katherine Rowe, Annett Wolf and Paula Woods), studio (e.g. Liz Berger, VJ Carbone, Jan Craft, Kira Feola, Seth Fradkoff, Danni Pearlberg, Nicole Quenqua, Michelle Rasic and Mike Rau), awards (e.g. Dorothea Saragent, Julie Tustin and, from Team Green Book, Dana Bseiso Vazquez) and independent (e.g. Meryl Katz, Courtney Ott, Sara Serlen, Jessica Uzzan and Elena Zilberman).

One observation: It appears that, over the last few years, there has been a marked uptick in the number of personal and awards reps admitted to the branch.

And now for the requisite griping.

It feels to me like the Academy has forgotten that its full title is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Indeed, it is increasingly inviting people to become members who, while wonderfully talented, have most distinguished themselves in another medium. Of just the familiar names on this year's invitation list, many have done their most substantial and standout work on TV (This Is Us' Sterling K. Brown, The Crown's Claire Foy, Billions' Damian Lewis, Mad Men and The Handmaid's Tale's Elisabeth Moss, The Good Wife's Archie Panjabi, Tracy Takes On... writer/producer Gail Parent and American Masters creator Susan Lacy), on stage (Tony winners Jennifer Ehle and Tracy Letts and nominee Stephen McKinley Henderson) or in books (Gone Girl and Sharp Objects' best-selling author Gillian Flynn), and may not yet have made enough film-specific contributions to merit a lifetime appointment to filmdom's Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, quite a few others who do primarily work in film have been invited to join the Academy after doing acclaimed work in and/or being a part of just one or two notable productions, including, this year, Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians and Mary Queen of Scots), Tom Holland (The Impossible and Spider-Man: Homecoming), Jack O'Connell ('71 and Unbroken), Will Poulter (Detroit and The Revenant) and Letitia Wright (Urban Hymn and Black Panther). They may well be great talents, but it is my understanding that one is expected to have accumulated a body of work before being invited to join the Academy, and I'm not sure that they have yet done so.

Yes, of course there have previously been people best known for their work in other media and/or without long film résumés who have occasionally slipped through the cracks, but the question the Academy has to ask itself is whether or not it wants to perpetuate that, and in so doing become a sprawling body like the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. My own feeling is that if the Oscar is to continue to be regarded as the film industry's ultimate stamp of excellence, then the people who get to vote for it ought to have achieved great things in multiple films.