Cheryl Boone Isaacs – president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – said this year’s list of all-white actor and actress nominees will inspire her to accelerate a push by the Oscars to be more inclusive.
She also hoped that the film industry as a whole will continue to strive for greater diversity.
All 20 of this year’s acting contenders are white and there are no women in the directing or writing categories.
After the nominations were announced last Thursday, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending on Twitter.
The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition issued a statement on Friday saying the ballot for nominees “obviously reflects a lack of diversity in Oscar voters as well as in films generally”.
Yet Boone Isaacs, the first African-American president of the Academy, insisted it was “committed to seeking out diversity of voice and opinion” and that outreach to women and artists of colour was a major focus.
“In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” she said.
“And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”
Boone Isaacs declined to say whether she and the Academy were embarrassed by the slate of white Oscar nominees, instead insisting she was proud of the nominees, all of whom deserved recognition.
She said that while each branch of the Academy comes up with its own criteria for excellence and each nominates its colleagues, all voting is individual and confidential.
“There is not one central body or group of people that sit around the table and come up with nominations,” she said. “It really is a peer-to-peer process.”
With all the accolades that civil rights drama Selma has drawn since its Christmas opening, some felt its failure to garner nominations for director Ava DuVernay or star David Oyelowo reflected a racial bias.
“What is important not to lose sight of is that Selma, which is a fantastic motion picture, was nominated for best picture this year, and the best picture category is voted on by the entire membership of around 7,000 people,” Boone Isaacs said.
Besides best picture, the film received just one additional nod – for original song – in what was widely viewed as a significant snub. But fans shouldn’t feel that way, she said: “It’s nominated for the Oscar for best picture. It’s an award that showcases the talent of everyone involved in the production of Selma.”’
Boone Isaacs said the five best actor nominees – Bradley Cooper, American Sniper; Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; Eddie Redmayne, The Theory Of Everything; and Michael Keaton, Birdman – were “all at the top of their game”.
“There are quite a few actors this year at the top of their game,” she said. “There are five nominees and this year, these were the five.”
Diversity outreach is spread among the academy’s 17 branches, she said, since existing members recruit new ones.
“This is a membership organisation, so we are all involved in this discussion and moving the subject of diversity forward,” she said. “It’s very important for us to continue to make strides to increase our membership and the recognition of talent.”
In its statement, the Asian Pacific coalition said the responsibility for diversity in film should be industry-wide.
“It behoves Hollywood – as an economic imperative, if not a moral one – to begin more closely reflecting the changing face of America,” it added.
Boone Isaacs agreed, saying that as the academy “continues to make strides toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation, we hope the film industry will also make strides toward becoming more diverse and inclusive”.
Though she repeatedly stressed the Oscars were a competitive process and that she was proud of this year’s nominees, Boone Isaacs acknowledged that diversity needed to be present in both story and storyteller.
“It matters that we pay attention to, again, the diversity of voice and opinion and experience, and that it doesn’t slide, it doesn’t slide anywhere except for forward,” she said.