Jonathan Demme’s Diversity Challenge To Academy: Recalibrate Current Nominations – Guest Column

After generating a long string of diverse and disruptive narrative and documentary features including the Oscar winning The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme is vexed by the lack of diversity in the past two Oscars. In a guest column for Deadline, Demme suggests reforms that go beyond those being hastily implemented by the Academy.

I love my Oscar, such an incalculable game-changer in the life of any recipient. I don’t think anyone makes a film in order to win a statue. It’s weird how each year a small group of nominees wind up in a contest they never chose to enter – a widely-publicized, narrow-focused, campaign-driven race. Suddenly, people from all categories find themselves engaged in a cinematic super-bowl they didn’t consciously sign up for.

Deadline Guest Shot BadgeThe Academy Awards process and presentation can be thrilling for folks both inside and outside the industry. However, it’s also confusing to many how fantastic films and filmmakers/storytellers on both sides of the camera can become virtually irrelevant and invisible as the awards season comes on.

Example: Superb in every aspect and featuring dazzling, heroic performances by fantastic LGBTQ actors in leading roles, Tangerine had no campaign, but someone managed to send out screeners. The film was shot — brilliantly — on i-phones (!!!!!). This hugely entertaining and ground-breaking film brings fresh meaning to the “outstanding achievement” verbiage that defines the point of the Oscars. Did enough Academy voters — overwhelmingly older, white males— watch the Tangerine screener to give it a shot at nomination? Does our membership gravitate — maybe more or less exclusively — to white stories, white actors, white filmmakers? It sure feels that way, doesn’t it?

For me, raised on white, male-dominated American movies as a kid, I now hunger for diversity in, well, all aspects of life, and certainly in films. Black lives matter. Black stories matter. Black artists matter. We’ve all got to try a whole lot harder to, as Spike Lee is fond of saying, “Wake up!” to what our country is really all about. Taken to a logical conclusion, a more diversity-seeking Academy would nurture a greater diversity-hungry audience, and bigger box-office than ever imagined would most likely follow for one and all.

Should Academy members be obliged to see all the films of the year in order to be eligible to vote on what they consider to be the outstanding achievements in all categories? As un-policeable as that notion may be, I find it an interesting thought.

It’s exciting that the Academy has responded so swiftly and openly with an admission of the white male dominance of our films, our industry, and our awards. Wouldn’t it be so wise, and so very correct, to not wait for next year to address this enormous challenge/problem? Instead, let’s recalibrate this years votes, expanding the entries in all categories, and in this way make it possible for us all to actually watch what is presently — unwatchably — so mortifyingly the “best white whatever” in all categories of the 2016 oscar ceremony? It would only take a minute, and it could help avoid what presently promises to be the most meagerly viewed Academy Awards show ever.

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