Oscars 2017: Academy President and #OscarsSoWhite Creator Sound Off on Diversity

The creator of the inclusion movement says there's room to improve.

ByABC News
January 24, 2017, 4:25 PM

— -- This year's group of Oscar nominees is much more diverse than in years past.

As a result, just hours after the nominations for the 2017 Academy Awards were revealed, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs told ABC News that this year's show has traded #OscarsSoWhite for another hashtag: #JoyfulOscars.

For the first time in three years, an actor of color has been nominated in not just one, but in each of the four top acting categories.

"We know, all of us in the film business, that the cycle and the life of a motion picture during its production marketing and distribution can happen in many different ways and it just so happened that this year we had an abundance of films that represented inclusion, which is something that we are, of course, very much a part of," Isaacs said. "Our initiative, of course, has been centered around our membership and our governance."

In 2015, #OscarsSoWhite was created by activist April Reign after all 20 nominations in the major acting categories -- best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress -- went to white performers. The trend continued in 2016, prompting some actors, including Will Smith, to boycott the show. However, Isaacs announced shortly thereafter that the academy was making changes to its membership policies, which would, she hoped, create more opportunities for women and minorities.

"This year’s slate of Oscar nominees highlights that, when given the opportunity, films that reflect the diversity of this country will shine," Reign told ABC News in a statement. "Nevertheless, one year does not make up for over 80 years of underrepresentation of all genders, sexual orientations, races, abilities and First Nation status. #OscarsSoWhite is about the inclusion of all marginalized communities, both in front of and behind the camera, throughout the entertainment industry.

"Films that reflect the nuance and complexity of all theatergoers have been incredibly successful this year, both critically and financially. It is incumbent upon Hollywood to ensure that more stories like these are told," the statement continued. "That can only be achieved with enthusiastic support from studios beginning at the screenwriting process and continuing through film distribution. I will continue to push for change using #OscarsSoWhite as a platform."

Isaacs said that in addition to tweaking its membership policies, the academy has launched an initiative that will focus on "the hiring, the mentoring, and the promotion of inclusion, if you will, in all aspects of motion pictures." Reign, who noted that she was "especially encouraged" by the best adapted screenplay nominations for "Fences," "Lion," "Hidden Figures," and "moonlight," as well as Bradford Young's "Arrival" nod in the best cinematography category, feels that's important too.

"Obviously the best actor and actress categories, best director and best film are the most popular, but I was most encouraged by those behind the scenes [nominations]. ... We have the first black woman for editing for 'Moonlight' this year, and also, the documentary category, with 'O.J.' and '13th,' Ava DuVernay's film," she said. "#OscarsSoWhite has always been about what happens in front of and behind the camera so those who were nominated in lesser-known categories should be equally proud and we should celebrate them."

And while she believes the academy has room for improvement, Reign thinks things are trending in the right direction. But those in the entertainment industry aren't the only ones to benefit from such shifts, she said. Audiences do too.

Noting that "Hidden Figures," which earned three Oscar nominations, has performed exceptionally well a the box office (according to Box Office Mojo, it has earned more than $84,000,000 in just a few weeks worldwide) Reign added that financial returns and awards show nominations are proof that success can be the byproduct of opportunity. To that end, she wants to dispel the notion that nominees were recognized to pacify those who supported #OscarsSoWhite.

"The movies and the performances that were nominated this year stand on their own. They didn't get made because of #OscarsSoWhite," she said. "What #OscarsSoWhite may have done is highlight these films, not only for theatergoers but for the studios to be more supportive of the films once they were released. But I don't want to take anything away from the nominees. They stand on their own as quality pieces of art."

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