Online Database of Academy Members Shows Origins of ‘Oscars So White’

Prominent Oscar winners like Adele have been excluded from the Academy's ranks

Oscar Statues on display at the Time War

Oscar statues on display at the Time Warner Center in New York. (Photo: Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images)

The #OscarsSoWhite controversy has taken over Hollywood in recent weeks, with the outcry over another year of all-white acting nominees reaching fever pitch. Many critics point to a demographic issue in the Academy itself—the average Academy member is a 63-year-old white man who will probably vote for himself if nominated, and because of this several prominent nominees have been excluded from the Academy ranks.

Anyone curious about how this disparity between the Academy and the public came to be can turn to an online data-driven resource called the Academy Members Project. This citizen journalism venture aims to create a public list of every past and present member of the Academy.

The project actually began in 2012, as an extension of the awards blog Never Too Early Oscar Predictions. (Among its other online enterprises is a database featuring posters for all the movies that have ever been nominated for Oscars.)

The membership drive slowly gathered steam over the past few years, and thanks to the renewed interest in Academy demographics brought on by Oscars So White, there has been a recent explosion in interest. Thus far, the Members Project has identified 5,528 current Academy members (77 percent of total membership) as well as nearly 4,700 past members.

The project’s website states that to be included in the database, a person’s Academy membership must be “confirmed publicly by a reliable and documentable source.” Any person in the database whose membership status has not been fully confirmed is italicized to reflect the disconnect.

It’s important to note that the project is not officially sanctioned by the Academy. There are 22 “contributors, researchers, editors and cheerleaders” listed on the site’s homepage —but some of these names (like Birdie, Nostra and A Recollector) are obviously online pseudonyms.

John Legend is a member of the Academy...(Photo: Google Commons)

Oscar winner John Legend is a member of the Academy… (Photo: Google Commons)

That being said, the discoveries made by this motley crew help shed some light on the Academy’s membership misfortunes.  While the conventional wisdom is that every person nominated for an Oscar is invited to join the Academy, there are some glaring cases  (crossing gender, race and age lines) where this is not true.

In the past decade alone, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld and Quvenzhane Wallis were all nominated for the film industry’s highest honor, but were not invited to join the Academy ranks. (Strangely Dakota Fanning, who has never been nominated for an Oscar, is an Academy member.)

...but Adele is not. (Photo: Getty Images)

…but Oscar winner Adele is not. (Photo: Getty Images)

This disparity is particularly felt in the music branch, where some winners don’t even get invites to the Academy. Adele, Isaac Hayes and the members of Three 6 Mafia are among the winning musicians who have not been recieved Academy invites (although last year’s Best Original Song winners, Common and John Legend, did).

To its credit, the Academy is implementing new membership guidelines to increase diversity—so hopefully the Members Project Database can be updated soon, to reflect fewer race, gender and age disparities and erase the music bias.

The database actually began in 2012, as an extension of the awards blog Never Too Early Oscar Predictions. (Among its other online enterprises is a database featuring posters for all the movies that have ever been nominated for Oscars.)

The membership drive slowly gathered steam over the past few years, and thanks to the renewed interest in Academy demographics brought on by Oscars So White, there has been a recent explosion in interest. Thus far, the Members Project has identified 5,528 current Academy members (77 percent of total membership) as well as nearly 4,700 past members.

Online Database of Academy Members Shows Origins of ‘Oscars So White’