Motion Picture Academy Seeks to Slow Rapid Rate of Membership Growth

Oscar statues
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Oscar statues are pictured at the Governors Ball Press Preview for the 92nd Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on Jan. 31, 2020, in Los Angeles. 

The move follows five consecutive years in which the Academy invited 600 or more new members to join its ranks each year.

In a surprise move, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday (May 26) that it is seeking to slow the rate of growth of its new members.

“To ensure the necessary infrastructure, staff resources and environment to support all Academy members, this year’s growth in membership will be limited to roughly half that of recent years,” the Academy said in a statement. “This modification will enable steady future growth and allow the Academy to continue serving its membership in a more personal manner.”

Last year, the Academy invited 819 people to join its ranks -- 45% of them women, 36% underrepresented ethnic/racial minorities, and 49% from outside the U.S., according to Academy number-crunchers.

It was the fifth consecutive year in which the Academy invited more than 600 new members to join its ranks. It invited 683 new members in 2016, 774 in 2017, 928 in 2018 (the peak year of the drive to expand its membership) and 842 in 2019. By contrast, it invited just 322 new members in 2015.

The Academy insists that “representation, inclusion and equity remain a priority.”

“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,” said Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. “We remain focused on cultivating a membership body that reflects our diverse film community and the world around us.”

Ahead of this change, the Academy’s board of governors voted on branch-specific guidelines to be applied in determining this year’s new membership invitees. Oscar winners and nominees will be considered without limitation by applicable branches.

The Academy push to expand and diversify its membership followed the #OscarsSoWhite scandals in 2015 and 2016, when, for two years running, all 20 acting nominees were white. In 2016, the Academy set specific inclusion goals (as part of its A2020 initiative) to double the number of women and underrepresented ethnic/racial communities by 2020. The Academy announced last year that it had surpassed those twin goals.

The percentage of Academy members who are women jumped from 25% in 2015 to 33% in 2020. The percentage who are from racial and ethnic minorities nearly doubled, jumping from 10% in 2015 to 19% in 2020.

The Academy reports 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.”

There is evidence that the Academy’s diversity efforts have had an effect.

Nine of the 20 Oscar nominations for acting this year went to actors of color -- a record.

It was a banner year for diversity in other categories as well. This year marked the first time that two women have been nominated for best director in the same year: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman). Zhao became the first woman of color to win (or even be nominated) in that category.

Significantly, Judas and the Black Messiah became the first film with an all-Black producing team -- Shaka King, Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler -- to be nominated for best picture.

The movie won two Oscars. Daniel Kaluuya, as was widely expected, won best actor in a supporting role. And in a major upset, H.E.R., Dernst Emile II and Tiara Thomas won best original song for "Fight for You."