The end of #OscarsSoWhite? US Film Academy adds 800 new members: half are women, a third are people of colour

Lulu Wang, Lakeith Stanfield and Cynthia Erivo join the Academy's membership. Source: Getty Images

The US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made a concerted effort in recent years to expand the diversity of members within the organisation. So, how have they fared?

The US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body responsible for the Oscars awards ceremony, announced over 800 new members.

Of the 819 new members to the Academy 45 per cent are women, 36 per cent are people of colour and 49 per cent are from countries outside of the United States.

The hashtag that changed the US film industry: #OscarsSoWhite

The move to shake-up the Academy came in the wake of the popular hashtag #OscarsSoWhite which protested the lack of diversity in the US film industry. 

In 2015, all acting nominations for the Oscars went to white actors. The decision by the Academy prompted writer April Reign to highlight the discrepancy in opportunities for actors of colour by creating the hashtag and promoting conversation around it. 

It also saw the following year, the likes of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith boycott the Oscars in support of the movement Reign had begun with #OscarSoWhite. 

On the back of the momentum of #OscarsSoWhite, a 2016 study from the University of Southern California examined the diversity in the US film industry from 2007 to 2015. 

The study found from a pool of 800 films and 886 directors between 2007 to 2015 only 4.1 per cent were women. The findings were much bleaker when the study examined the number of women directors of colour: there were only three Black and one Asian female directors who worked on the 800 films. 

And in the same year that pushed #OscarsSoWhite into the mainstream, of the 107 directors who made films that year only four were Black or African American and six were Asian or Asian American. 

In terms of acting roles, 73.7 per cent of roles in that year went to white actors compared to the 12.2 per cent for black actors, 5.3 per cent for Latinx actors and 3.9 per cent for Asian actors. 

But of those who were given acting roles, there were only 14 films in 2015 that gave actors of colour lead roles. 

The Academy’s diversity goals

In 2016, amid #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy announced targeted goals to increase the diversity two-fold within the organisation -- the scheme was called “A2020”. 

Fast forward to 2020, the scheme seems to be working. Now there are twice as many women members in the Academy, up from 1,446 in 2015 to 3,179 in 2020. Members of colour have increased in that same period more than three-fold: from 554 to 1,787. And international members have also increased from 747 to 2,107.

“We take great pride in the strides we have made in exceeding our initial inclusion goals set back in 2016, but acknowledge the road ahead is a long one,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said in a statement.

Who is in the class of 2020?

The members who are joining the acting ranks of the Academy include Atlanta co-stars Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, and Brian Tyree Henry.

It also includes John David Washington, the son of Denzel Washington, who starred in ‘BlacKKKlansman’; Zendaya, who’s starred in Marvel’s revamped Spiderman movies; Ana de Armas who played the lead in ‘Knives Out’; Florence Pugh, who was nominated for best-supporting actress for her role in ‘Little Women’; Awkwafina, who starred in ‘The Farewell’; and Yalitza Aparicio who starred in ‘Roma’. 

Lulu Wang, the writer and director of ‘The Farewell’; and Olivia Wilde, the director of ‘Booksmart’ also joined the Academy in the director category. 

Cynthia Erivo, who was nominated for her best actress in the ‘Harriet’ biopic, was selected as a member in two categories: music and acting.


And locally, Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn was added to the Academy’s members club. It was gritty Australian drama Animal Kingdom set up a new career for Mendelsohn in Hollywood, after his early career slumped. Mendelsohn has featured in some of the biggest movies in the last decade including Captain Marvel, The Dark Knight Rises, and Star Wars’ prequel Rogue One.