Oscars voters unmasked
AS A well-trodden red carpet is rolled out the 84th Academy Awards ceremony this week, the question of who casts the final votes has reared its shiny gold head once again.
Claims of inequality at the Oscars have rocked the Hollywood guild for years, with less than 4 per cent of awards being won by African Americans and only one award being given to a female director – Kathryn Bigelow; yet the academy has notoriously remained tight-lipped about its 5,765-strong voter roster.
A single statuette can add millions to box office revenues and propel an actor to instant stardom, but while winners reap the rewards, mystery still shrouds the voter-base – until now.
A study by the Los Angeles Times has finally unmasked the highly-secretive electorate, claiming to have identified 5,112 of the guild’s 5,765 voters, and finding that the voter-base is 94 per cent Caucasian and 77 per cent male.
The average age is 62 and only 14 per cent of members are under 50, according to the study. Only 2 per cent are black, less than 2 per cent are Latino, and 15 academy branches are exclusively made up of white males.
Curiously, a nun, bookshop owner and retired Peace Corps recruit are also listed as members, casting their ballots with the same clout as megastars George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Leonardo Di Caprio.
The findings make frustrating reading for the academy’s critics, among them Denzel Washington and Samuel L Jackson, who have spent years protesting at the lack of black and minority nominees.
Others reacted with anger, with some insiders calling the situation "ridiculous".
"You would think that in this day and age, there would be a little more equality across the board, but that is not the case," Nancy Schreiber, one of a handful of women working in the academy’s cinematography branch, told the LA Times. "Being a cinematographer should not be gender-based, and it is ridiculous that it is."
Some also claim inequality in the voter make-up has led to a skewed winners’ record.
Bernie Casey, a black actor who says he recently quit the academy due to inequalities, said people of colour are always "peripheral" when it comes to doling out the awards.
"Asians, Latinos, black people – you never see them. We are 320 million people in America and about 48 million black people and the same of Latin descent – but you would not believe that based on what you see in the films," he said.
However, not everyone agrees. Frank Pierson, the former academy president who serves on the board of governors, says membership should be on merit and not tapered to fit an ideal. Mr Pierson was himself an Oscar winner in 1976 for screenplay Dog Day Afternoon.
"I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for," he said. "We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it."
Another member points out that the current system means membership will always be slanted towards older individuals due to the difficulty in being accepted into the fold.
* There have been several minority actors nominated for Oscars, including Octavia Spencer for her role in The Help, and Mexican performer Demian Bichir for his role in A Better Life. This year's Oscars ceremony will be on Sunday February 26.