We're a few weeks away from the Oscars, and while the Academy has unveiled sweeping changes that will take a closer look at voting eligibility, and promise more diverse membership by 2020, not everyone thinks the plan has been well thought out. In a recent talk with Awards Chatter, Steven Spielberg shared his concerns, particularly when it comes to making Academy members unable to vote if they haven't worked in ten years, while emphasizing that industry changes need to go far beyond the Oscars.
"You have to look back a couple of years, where Lupita [Nyong'o] was recognized for '12 Years a Slave' [and] '12 Years a Slave' won best picture, you know? I don't believe that there is inherent or dormant racism because of the amount of white Academy members," the director said. "I'm also not 100 percent sure that taking votes away from Academy members who have paid their dues and maybe are retired now and have done great service — maybe they've not won a nomination, which would have given them immunity to the new rules, but they have served proudly and this is their industry, too — to strip their votes? I'm not 100 percent behind that."
"I do think that what the Academy is doing, in a proactive way, to open up the membership to diversity, I think that's very, very important," he continued. "But it's not just the Academy, and I think we have to stop pointing fingers and blaming the Academy. It's people that hire, it's people at the main gate of studios and independents. It's the stories that are being told. It's who's writing diversity — it starts on the page. And we all have to be more proactive in getting out there and just seeking talent."
Those are strong points, and the filmmaker also believes the awards race — in which industry types are wined, dined, and gifted for months — needs to have some controls put on it.
"There's a lot of money being thrown at it. I'm not gonna sit here and say we should have campaign finance limits the way John McCain was asking for them a couple of years ago during a political cycle," Spielberg said. "But I do think think the amount of, let's just call it 'gifts,' the amount of 'enticements,' should be reduced to zero. I think the thing I'm against the most are enticements — people sending elaborate brochures and baskets. I think sending out a DVD of your movie is all we should be doing and nothing beyond that. Not the dinners and anything else — I just think that's a little bit different than the way it used to be."
In short, make it about the movies, and not who threw the best dinner party, but as the filmmaker admits, some people really do like a good shindig.
Listen to the full talk with Spielberg below.