Oscar Voter to Academy: I'm "No Longer Proud to Be a Member of This Organization"

Nancy Beiman, a member of the Academy's short films and feature animation branch, weighs in on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the response to it.
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Nancy Beiman

This piece by Nancy Beiman, a member of the Academy's short films and feature animation branch who worked as a supervising animator and development artist at Disney, is part of an ongoing series of guest columns by Academy members about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the Academy's response to it.

When I was voted into the Academy, my sponsor specifically stated that "we not only have too few animators in this club, we have too few female animators." (At the time, I was one of only three female supervising animators at Disney.) Now I am one of the first people who will be affected by this unfair law, which discriminates against animators and women.

No one at the Academy offered to change the voting rules when Geena Davis pointed out in a study of female representation in film jobs in 2012 that only 7 percent of the "creatives" (non-acting) working in the film industry are female. But they changed the rules in one day for every category when one actor and one director claimed that the Oscar nomination process was racist.

This is a letter I wrote to the Academy.

To whom it may concern:

I have been a professional animator for 37 years and a dues-paying member of AMPAS for 20 years. For 10 of those years I was one of the very, very few directing animators in Hollywood who happened to be female. Since 2005, I've been working in related fields (teaching, writing) and freelancing on films that went into turnaround or were canceled, so I did not receive screen credit. I've been a script doctor, character designer and storyboard artist on two unproduced theatrical pictures and also worked on one live-action documentary.

You now announce, in the name of "diversity," that I am no longer eligible for a voting membership in your organization, since for the past 10 years I have not actively worked in feature motion pictures — and "activity" is not defined. It apparently means, credited on completed American feature films.

May I point out that as one of the female members in the short films and feature animation branch, I am also a minority? Am I not contributing to the "diversity" of this organization? Women are shockingly under-represented in craft, technical and directorial nominations every year. Since when is it permissible to discriminate against one minority to right a perceived wrong to another?

And why are you "conducting a worldwide search for female and minority member candidates" while discriminating against your current membership? What does my résumé, or that of any other member of AMPAS, have to do with who is nominated for Oscars? Nothing. The membership's experience is not the problem. The nominating system is flawed, but the blame is put on older members rather than the voting process.

For the past decade, I've been paying full membership dues while being unable, due to my geographic location [in Canada], to attend any of the membership events or screenings in Los Angeles or New York. The dues actually went up this year. I paid them without complaint since I was finally able to vote again in my own category, thanks to the streaming videos of the animation nominees. But this is apparently the last time that I will be able to do it thanks to this unfair rule.

I apparently do not matter to this organization, my experience and reputation mean nothing to you, my "diversity" doesn't count for anything. But my checks are still good. And, after this insult, I don't think that you will be receiving any more.

You did not consider the possible consequences of this new rule, or submit a proposal to us for a vote before making this hasty and ill-conceived change to the membership status of many of us who will doubtless be contacting you about it. You'd rather blow with the political wind and put the blame for a publicity fiasco on your membership rather than on the voting process for the top Oscar nominations. Let the best director, best actor and best actress be nominated by the general membership rather than just one branch, just as best picture is, and the issue would cease to be a problem. Did no one ever consider that?

If you do not repeal this foolish and ill-conceived rule repealing my full-membership status for mere political expedience, I will not be renewing my membership in AMPAS next year. I am no longer proud to be a member of this organization. I will not accept — or pay dues for — an "emeritus" status that provides me with no benefits whatever. The only benefit I currently receive from the Academy is the ability to vote for the Oscars. I resent being discriminated against in this matter. I've had enough of that in my career. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Very truly yours,

Nancy Beiman,
Short films and feature animation branch