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How to win an Oscar: Be white, male and aging

Daleonsouth_02-20_opt_1BY JOE TYRELL
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

Among Oscar voters, if you're white, it's all right, provided you're also male and aging.

A new survey by the Los Angeles Times on the eve of this year's Oscar broadcast has confirmed an open secret in the film industry. Unlike the United States and its movie-going public, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are overwhelming while, male and older.

The newspaper said that through interviews, reviews of résumés and publications, it has confirmed the identities of 89 percent of the academy's 5,765 members. While many individuals have been proud to highlight their participation, the academy itself has kept its full roster under wraps.

No wonder. The Times found that 94 percent of Oscar voters are white, almost 77 percent are male, and just 14 percent are younger than 50. The story can be read here.

Among other statistics, the newspaper reported that only one of the academy's 15 branches is less than 90 percent white _ actors, at 88 percent. The executives and writers are each 98 percent white. Only one of the academy's 43 governors – public relations executive Cheryl Boone Isaacs – is a person of color.

"I don't know the stats, but I'm not surprised," said NJN movie critic Miriam Rinn.

Academy awards, or even nominations, often play crucial roles in the financial success of a production, and certainly can make careers. Over the years, a strong body of evidence supports the concept that the academy's demographics determine who and what type of production makes it in the industry.

But the academy's demographics have hampered the Oscars. Television viewership plunged to an all-time low in 2008, when "No Country for Old Men" took Best Picture. It bounced back a bit the following year, when the winner, Bombay-set "Slumdog Millionaire" caught the imaginations of more viewers. Last year's expansion of the category to 10 nominees also worked to boost viewership.

With nine nominees this year, some in the industry suggest its ostensible appeal to middle-aged males led to the inclusion of what the Huffington Post called "perhaps the most surprising nomination," a pretentious capitlaization on 9/11. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" grabbed a spot over a raft of more accomplished and popular contenders such as "Bridesmaids," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Drive" and "Take Shelter."

"You’d have to turn somewhere other than the nine best-picture nominees for proof that 2011 was more than merely an adequate year for movies," said Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe.

Like others, he pointed to changes in the voting formula requiring that movies get a percentage of first-place votes to remain in the running for an Oscar nomination. That hurts a female-oriented comedy like "Bridesmaids" or a violent noir like "Drive," since they are unlikely to be a first choice of many academy members.

In 83 years, African-Americans have won less than 4 percent of the acting awards, although that might change this year. The Best picture nominees include "The Help." Overcoming a pallid, safe script, the ensemble cast provided strong work, including Viola Davis, nominated for best actress, and Octavia Spencer, best supporting actress.

Some in the industry defend the academy's make-up as reflective of the industry as a whole, and particularly those who have persevered and succeeded in Hollywood.

But that in itself is a remarkable commentary on the closed doors of an industry based largely in Los Angeles, a city whose population is 47.7 percent Hispanic, 13.7 percent Asian and 8.7 percent African-American, according to the 2010 Census.

Joe Tyrrell may be reached at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or followed on Twitter @ jtyrrell87

 

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