Will Smith has decided to join his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, in skipping the Oscars next month. “My wife’s not going. It would be awkward to show up with Charlize [Theron],” Smith joked on Good Morning America Thursday. But the twice-nominated actor also had some sharp criticisms for Hollywood and the Academy. His appearance coincides with a new report about the specific steps the Academy may take in order to address the lack of diversity among its nominees.
A few days ago, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs drafted a statement promising the Academy would take “dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.” The Academy’s 51-member governing board will meet on Tuesday to vote on changes, and, according to a report from The New York Times, there are several possible big changes on the menu. The most likely option, according to Academy insiders, is that the best-picture category will re-expand to include 10 films, as it did in 2010. Writing on the subject of #OscarsSoWhite last week, New York Times film critic Wesley Morris made the point that when the category first expanded, the films nominated—Precious, Blind Side, Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Up, A Serious Man, Up in the Air, and An Education—made for a much more inclusive group than the average year (this one included). Morris wrote:
I can’t prove this, but I think that might be the most honest reflection of the Academy’s taste and priorities that also includes a vision of a possible industry future: movies about women; movies directed by women (about women, about men!); movies about racism; movies about genocide (in 3-D!); one cartoon about an elderly widower in a hot-air balloon; another (in live action) about exterminating the Third Reich; a sci-fi allegory about apartheid; a movie about black people that wasn’t actually about racism; the Coens!
If the best-picture category had 10 slots instead of 8 this year, it’s very likely that F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton could have made the cut, given its nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild, among others. (There could have even been room for Creed, a critic’s favorite that scored one Oscar nomination, for Sylvester Stallone as best supporting actor). That same line of thought explains why the Academy is also considering expanding the acting categories to also include 10 nominees. Michael B. Jordan in Creed and Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation—two performers with strong notices who were overlooked by the Oscars in 2016—could probably have made it into an expanded field.
The last potential changes have to do with shaking up the Academy’s traditionally old, white, male membership (though less so in recent years, as a younger and more diverse crowd has been invited to join). Reportedly, the Academy is considering requiring that their members “cast a ballot regularly, or lose voting privileges temporarily. It was not immediately clear how a use-it-or-lose-it provision would change the voting.” A more drastic and unlikely scenario would ban Academy members who have been inactive in the industry of 10 or 20 years from voting. In addition to bringing down the median age of the voters, this would impact some of the Academy’s most august members, and seems extremely unlikely to go into effect.
But all these changes won’t address the larger issues that the likes of Spike Lee, George Clooney, and Will Smith have raised in regard to Hollywood. “The nominations reflect the Academy, ” Smith says. “The Academy reflects the industry [Hollywood] and then the industry reflects America. There is a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony ,and that’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind.”