The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is tightening new membership numbers by roughly half of the large class annually admitted in recent years, an initiative originally begun in 2016 when the previous year’s number of new members was doubled. This was largely in order to correct the imbalance of the organization’s then reported majority of white male members, making it much more diverse and more international in scope.
I am told the Academy believes the annual growth since then of 10% was just not sustainable, and by reining it back to what it considers workable numbers it will allow “more personal” attention to members. The goal is for AMPAS to have the necessary infrastructure, staff resources and environment to support all members while honoring continued goals like the previously announced Aperture 2025 and focus on diversity and inclusion on a more manageable basis. The Academy now believes that effort is part of a fabric and organic growth in all aspects of what they do.
Ahead of this change, announced Wednesday, the Academy’s board of governors voted on branch-specific guidelines that will serve as the footprint in determining this year’s new invitees, and that includes Oscar winners and nominees who will be considered without limitation by their specific branches.
“As we look to the future growth and goals of the Academy, we need to scale appropriately so we can continue to give the personal service our members have come to expect and appreciate,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said today. “We remain focused on cultivating a membership body that reflects our diverse film community and the world around us.”
The Academy has expanded its class size over the past several years, exceeding its goal to double the number of women and underrepresented ethnic/racial communities by 2020. To give you an idea of just how dramatic those increases have been, the number of new members invited in June 2015 was just 322, but that was doubled to 683 the next year, and then steadily increased to 774 in 2017 and a record 928 in 2018. A total of 842 new members were invited to join in 2019, and 819 last year. It is expected the Academy will be announcing the class of 2021 by the end of June.
There was grumbling among some members that the organization was getting too big and losing some of its cachet by admitting too many new members. Whether this move quiets those complaints remains to be seen, but today’s AMPAS announcement indicates we can expect a return to numbers more resembling those that came before beginning five years ago.
The Academy only invites new members to join once a year. The official number of members eligible to vote in the most current Oscars was 9,362, though the overall number of members including associate and non-voting is larger than that. Most recently, agents were given voting privileges.
Although AMPAS membership has ballooned in size making the “club” a little less exclusive than it had been, it still remains about half the size of the Television Academy.
AMPAS says that membership selection decisions will continue to be based on professional qualifications, with representation, inclusion and equity remaining a priority, and that it is committed to advancing its Aperture 2025 initiative, “furthering goals to increase equity and inclusion in the stories told through film, elevate different voices within Academy leadership, and provide opportunities to amplify these voices across multiple sectors in the industry.”
Dates for the 2022 Academy Awards, as well as eligibility guidelines and rules (including for streamers) are still to be announced, but are expected soon. Big-ticket sporting events such as the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl (being played in L.A. next year) complicate matters and likely will push the show to a March airdate. Whether Oscar returns to a calendar-year pattern — meaning the cutoff of eligible films is December 31, 2021 — is still a question waiting for an official answer.
The most recent Oscar show took place on April 25, its latest date ever due to the pandemic, and drew it lowest ratings in history.
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