By Steve Gorman and Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES, Jan 24- The Oscars have launched a landmark campaign to diversify the ranks of Academy Award voters who decide which actors, movies and filmmakers earn recognition, but Hollywood’s highest honors may remain a predominantly white affair for some time to come.
Amid an outcry against a field of Oscar-nominated performers lacking a single person of color for a second straight year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a sweeping affirmative action program on Friday, pledging to double female and minority membership by 2020.
But host Chris Rock will not step away from the high-profile job, the show’s producer Reginald Hudlin said on Saturday, telling Entertainment Tonight at an NAACP Image Awards luncheon the comedian has scrapped his material.
“As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, ‘I’m throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show,'” Hudlin told ET.
“You should expect [#OscarsSoWhite jokes],” Hudlin said, adding “And, yes, the Academy is ready for him to do that.”
The largely white, male and older makeup of the 6,000-plus film industry professionals who belong to the academy has long been cited as a barrier to racial and gender equality at theOscars.
“It’s unprecedented for the academy to make this kind of drastic overhaul,” said Tom O’Neil, editor of the awards-tracking website Gold Derby. “It’s a very dramatic announcement and a very welcome breakthrough.”
The changes, unanimously approved on Thursday night by the academy’s governing board, include a program to “identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity,” and to strip some older members of voting privileges.
Under the new rules, lifetime voting rights would be conferred only on those academy members who remain active in the film industry over the course of three 10-year terms or who have won or been nominated for an Oscar.
Actor Will Smith, director Spike Lee and a handful of others vow to skip the Feb. 28 awards. They gave no indication that they plan to call off their Oscar boycott.
Warner Bros, a major Hollywood studio, issued a statement within hours embracing the Oscar announcement, and Kevin Tsujihara, chairman of the Time Warner Inc-owned studio, added, “there is more we must and will do.”
‘A GREAT STEP’
None of the measures will affect voting for this year’s Oscars – a contest whose dearth of racial diversity led to the revival of the trending Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite that emerged in 2015.
April Reign, an African-American activist who started the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag a year ago, welcomed the changes but was still calling on viewers to boycott the Oscars.
“The academy can only nominate films that are made, and so the onus has to be put on Hollywood studio heads to make more films that represent the beauty and diversity and the nuance of all of America,” Reign said in a phone interview.
Longer-term change faces a deeply entrenched white, male-dominated system of studios, talent agencies and production companies that have been slow to welcome minorities in lead acting roles or as directors and screenwriters. Women have long faced similar impediments.
“The Oscar awards are the cosmetics of the industry. The infrastructure is the problem,” said Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.
On Saturday, Oscar-winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu at a panel of producers nominated for awards by the Producers Guild of America called the new academy rules “a great step” toward more diversity.
The Mexican filmmaker, director of last year’s best film Oscar winner “Birdman” and this year’s nominee “The Revenant,” and others on the panel agreed producers need to do more at the start of a film’s development, in casting for instance, to achieve more cultural balance in film.