That Oscar voters are predominantly old, white, and male isn’t terribly surprising. Academy demographics are often cited as one of the reasons Oscar tends to favor, say, something like The King’s Speech over The Social Network, and it seems like each awards season sees an onslaught of stories about Hollywood’s diversity problem. But some recently released statistics have shed some light on just how skewed the voting population really is. According to a new report, 94% of Oscar voters are Caucasian and 77% are male. They have a median age of 62, with just 14% of voters under 50. More details after the jump.
Although the full membership list of all 5,765 voting Academy members is kept under tight wraps, the Los Angeles Times confirmed the identities of over 89% of voting members through interviews, publications, resumes, biographies, and more. Most were still working professionals, but because members generally retain their status for life, the roster also included hundreds of voters who’d left the industry years ago.
There’s no question that the academy demographics do a poor job of reflecting the country or the filmgoing population as a whole. And they go a long way toward explaining why the academy’s choices feel so out of touch at times. Something like Shame, for instance, is much more likely to attract younger viewers than older ones, while Crash probably appealed more to Caucasians than people of color. The demographics do, however, reflect those of the overall movie industry. For example, 19% of the academy’s screenwriting branch is female, compared to 17% of all working screenwriters.
As for whether the voters themselves see any of this as a problem, it depends on whom you ask. On the one hand, there are those like former academy president Frank Pierson, who sees the statistics as a non-issue. “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.”
Others, like academy member Bill Duke, are unhappy with Oscar’s apparent lack of interest in diversifying. “The black community sees the academy as an entity that ignores the needs, wants, desires and representation of black directors, producers, actors and writers,” he said. “Whether it is true or not, that is how it’s perceived — as an elitist group with no concern or regard for the minority community and industry. And there doesn’t seem to be any desire to change that perception.”
It’s unfair to pin the Academy and its voting members as the source of Hollywood’s diversity problem, but the Oscar demographics seem to both reflect and perpetuate the much bigger issue. It’s not that I think older white men can’t enjoy as wide a variety of films as anyone else on an individual level. However, when the voting population consists so overwhelmingly of a single demographic, that demographic’s general preferences can’t help but be overrepresented — which in turn encourages Hollywood to keep making and promoting certain types of films, filmmakers, actors, etc., while overlooking others.