It’s not black and white: Restoring integrity in the Academy Awards

It’s not black and white: Restoring integrity in the Academy Awards

We will shortly see the arrival of the 88th Academy Awards. Rather than celebrating the great and good of the motion picture world, the lack of diversity in this years’ awards is taking centre stage. This issue has been simmering for a few years and has now reached boiling point with the seemingly glaring institutional bias against minorities in this 2016’s nominees. This follows the same outcome in 2015. High profile individuals including Rebel Wilson and Sasha Baron-Cohen have condemned the Academy Awards as racist. Here at Stripe, we know a thing or two about the business of reputation management and the value of a positive reputation to an organisation. Warren Buffet famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” So how has 88 years of building a reputation been dismantled and more importantly how can it be rebuilt?

If your perception is that a group of white, wealthy, big wig Hollywood directors sit around a smoke filled board room deciding the fate of the nominees, you’re wrong. The voting process that determines which films and actors become Oscar nominees involves more than 6000 voting members and hundreds of eligible films, actors, actresses, directors, cinematographers, editors, composers, and more. To even be eligible for a nomination involves a strict procedure governed by specific guidelines.

The votes are then calculated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, who have handled the duties of mailing out ballots and tabulating the results for the last 80 years. They post the ballots of eligible nominees to members of the Academy in December, then calculate the votes in January. Hmm, I hear you say.

Regardless of the how, with damning, high profile condemnation of the Academy Awards and the lack of recognition of some exceptional performances and pictures involving minorities – CreedStraight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation – The Oscars has not only lost integrity and respect from a global audience but increasingly raises the issue of why is this happening and how can it be addressed?

The Academy in June invited 322 new members, with many reflecting the Academy’s push for greater diversity among its membership. But the current membership — overwhelmingly white and over-50 — won’t see a fast overhaul soon, due to strict membership rules.

How do they promote diversity? How do they change? More importantly, how do they survive and reclaim the integrity that they have spent 88 years cultivating and that has been severely eroded in the past two years?

The Academy need to look in the mirror, look at its membership, look at the box office, look at society and change. As communications consultants, this is a fascinating issue. You take a call from the Academy, asking you to tell them how to help fix this problem? What is your answer?

This will be the question keeping Cheryl Boone-Isaacs up at night, as President of the Academy Award and a former Public Relations officer, she knows only too well that she is navigating stormy waters.

She will know that piece meal change and a little here and a little there will no longer cut it. They need to demonstrate systemic change and this will only start with an Academy member panel that is more representative of US society. Small steps have been made but people now want to see bigger change, faster. What’s more, the Academy needs to be seen to be helping to cultivate greater diversity in the creative industries, ensuring that those who are capable of being judged for the awards in the future, have been afforded equal opportunities to fulfil their talent.

For now, the Oscars sit in a period of damage limitation and the world will eagerly anticipate the 89th Academy Awards nominees.

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