Saturday, January 23, 2016

Stephen Furst and Bill Mumy Address the New Hollywood:
The Bullied Becomes the Bully


Stephen Furst


Introduction: 
Over the past few years, there has been a growing resentment from the Black community of actors and activists regarding the dominance of White nominations for Academy Awards. KPFK Radio has likened this domination to an exclusive club for Anglo members only. TV show hosts such as Whoopi Goldberg have  urged a year-wide boycott, rather than a one-day boycott of the Oscars (as proposed by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Spike Lee--among others), until the Academy of Motion Picture Arts  and Sciences Board Members create a more diverse choice of nominations. As Charlotte Rampling has called this boycott "reverse racism" and Michael Caine asks protesters to "be patient", the Academy took shift action in an effort to quell protests and has instead raised the disappointment and anger of current Academy members whose vote will be affected by the new decision to bow to protest pressure. I asked actor Stephen Furst (ANIMAL HOUSE, ST. ELSEWHERE, BABYLON 5)if I could reprint his reaction to the Academy decision. He said yes. Below is his response(including Bill Mumy's answer to Furst's post).


Here is the letter stating the new rules for voting agreed upon by the Academy of Motion Pictures. 

Posted:
Friday, January 22, 2016 - 08:00

Lifetime voting rights reframed; new governor seats added and committees restructured

Goal to double number of diverse members by 2020

In a unanimous vote Thursday night (1/21), the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences approved a sweeping series of substantive changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse. The Board’s goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.

“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars.

At the same time, the Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.

In order to immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the President for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board.

The Academy will also take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.

Along with Boone Isaacs, the Board’s Membership and Administration Committee, chaired by Academy Governor Phil Robinson, led the efforts to enact these initiatives.

Media Contact
publicity@oscars.org



Responses to the Letter and Updates:

Stephen Furst

Absolutely furious over the Academy decision to get rid of the over 60 crowd to appease a handful of actors calling for a boycott. They are saying if you aren't an active participant in your Academy field for 10 years then you will now lose your right to vote for the awards. I was honored to be admitted to the Academy as an actor. I have not acted in 10 years, yet I am now a producer/director which is a different category. Will I be kicked out of the academy?

This action was done by the Academy to try to diffuse any controversy before the awards air. Some of the actors/directors behind the boycott are Spike Lee 
whose film I tried to watch this year and it was unwatchable, a mess of filmmaking masturbation. I also want to know how active Jada Pinkett Smith is as an actress. She won't be nominated in anyone's lifetime. She is best known as Mrs. Will Smith.

Because when I fill out my nomination ballot I don't cross off anyone who is black. I vote from my opinion on whose performance on a particular project was astounding enough to earn my vote. Those are the actors who I vote for. I went back to see 5 actors in each category I nominated. Several were black. Most from Straight Outta Compton, and Beast of No Nation, but not enough of my fellow cohorts voted the same way. Paul Giamatti was astounding in Staright Outta Comptom. He did not get a nomination. Was it because he was Italian?

So the Academy has decided to get rid of some members. Most all who have retired or don't work as much. When they retire at 60 or 65 or 70, have they lost their ability to to watch a film and decide which actor did an exceptional job? 

In less than a week the Academy has taken action. They now say they want to loosen the standards of membership. When I was admitted it was damn hard and very prestigious. So I guess if you have done a Taco Bell commercial and you are of color you now qualify. You are in. The film industry is probably one of the most liberal sectors in existence. I must defend my fellow members by saying that I don't think anyone not voted for an actor because of their skin tone. 

Think of some of the names that will not be a part of the academy if they hit a dry spell or decide to retire: Billy Crystal. Karen Allen, Ann-Margaret, Ed Asner, Dan Akyroyd, Ed Begley, Tom
Berenger, Albert Brooks, Nicolas Cage, Gabriel Byrne, Tatum O'Neal, Tom Selleck, William Shatner, etc. What if the NBA decided to do this and said there are too many black athletes, so you can only recruit Whites who are Eastern Europeans? You cannot force producers to make certain kinds of films. That is CENSORSHIP!!!!!


My suggestion is for the powerful people of color like Will, Oprah, Denzel, Morgan, Beyonce, Magic, put up the money to make the films that will produce Oscar bait for minorities. True, racism is horrible, but equally as bad is ageism. Shame on the Academy for so worrying about their image in their desperate need be politically correct, that they would do such a horrible thing to amazing filmmakers (actors, directors, writers, composers, etc) who have made such amazing films in the past.

Bill Mumy

Testify, Stephen! I've been a voting Academy member for 40 years and this decision pisses me off Bigtime. I guess they'll kick me down to a non voting member now because I don't want to work for no money under whittled down Union realities on shitty scripts.

*************************************************

Keep your eyes and ears open for the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards. If the angry response continue to mount, there may be a backlash to the decision by the Academy. Here's hoping things work out for the best for all concerned.

Anthony Servante
_________________________________________________



UPDATE #1:
Below is the letter from Stephen Furst to the Academy of Motion Pictures regarding recent changes to the Oscar voting system:


Dear Ms. Boone, Ms. Munoz, and Board of Governors,

In less than a week after (according to Associated Press) “a handful of actors” decided that they were going to boycott The Oscars, the Academy Board of Governors has concluded that I am racist, not to mention, irrelevant. In fact, I am very far from either. Whether I am an active member of the Academy is secondary to me at this point, considering the insulting and unfounded generalities the Academy has made about the character and judgment of older Academy members.

Like many other members I know, I was saddened, as well as offended, to learn the Academy Board of Governors has chosen to scapegoat the older members of the Academy in order to deflect the criticism about the lack of diversity this year in the nominees for Academy Awards. I know that there has been much public conversation about why the nominees this year do not include any minorities, with the focus being on the membership having so many old, white, male members. The Academy has therefore bowed to this explanation, in a most disturbing manner, although there is no evidence that old, white, male Academy members are racist, do not appreciate the art of minorities, or refuse to vote for minorities’ work.

Diversity in film is important, and having that diversity represented in Oscar nominees is important, but those goals aren’t achieved by disparaging the wonderful filmmakers of all races and ethnicities who have made lasting impressions and opened minds and hearts across the world through the art of film.

The Academy can’t fight issues with diversity by engaging in ageism and sexism.

But it promotes fairness — and diversity — by ensuring members see the films before voting.

Your open letter states that “‘The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up.’” Apparently, the Board of Governors believes kicking aside the older voters is some sort of a solution to a lack of diversity in the industry. But of course it isn’t. And, with that statement, the Academy evidently fails to recognize that the film industry isn’t particularly kind to older industry people, period, any more than it is to minority ones. By eliminating older members from your voting rolls, you are hardly leading the way. You are simply imitating the worst aspects of the industry, adding insult to injury. And, as far as that sexism goes: Many successful actresses have a hard time getting work in the business when they hit their 30s or 40s and they may choose to take a break from film to be with their families. Whether they quit the business, work in television or, like Meryl Streep, work less for awhile, they are still relevant.

In your original letter you use the words “active members.” This is extremely vague. A second email from Ms. Munoz acknowledges that members have questions about what that means, but then doesn’t answer the question.

There are many reasons why some members might be considered inactive:

1. They change roles in the film industry. I myself have been very active as a director and producer in recent years.

2. Veteran filmmakers have decided to turned to mentoring young future filmmakers.

3. Some filmmakers currently work on acclaimed TV series. They may return to film in some capacity, but their current work will inform and enrich their film work.

4. A film may not be released and qualify for an Academy award in a given year.

5. An actress — or actor — who was accomplished enough to become an Academy member decides to put her career on hold to raise a family.

Are these people irrelevant because they have not worked in their branch for 10 years? Actually, those people are the most objective, not having their own work to promote.

One of the main reasons for the lack of diversity in nominees this year is that many members vote without watching all the films. I probably am in a minority myself, because I watched 95% of the screeners sent out. That’s the minority you should be focusing on preserving, because that’s how you preserve integrity in the nominations. But I seriously doubt that ANY member of the Academy refuses to nominate someone because of their race, ethnicity or gender.

I myself nominated Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation, Abraham Attah, Zoe Saldana, Jason Mitchell, and Tessa Thompson. There were so many fine performances and films that I could have nominated 10 in each category and still run out of space. With your new rules, you make it clear that by shaking up the membership, you expect a different result as more minorities join the Academy. But this isn’t Alabama in the 1960s. White members don’t only vote for white nominees, and I trust minority members will not favor only minority ones. Minority films and actors are regularly nominated, but not every year. Even Meryl Streep doesn’t get nominated every year.

Fairness in voting will probably increase the numbers of minorities who are nominated. This is an integrity issue, not a racism issue. The Academy does not have power over what films producers and studios make, but the Academy can take steps in assuring that member see a certain percentage of films before they are allowed to vote. Those who don’t are the people that should have their vote taken away for that season.

Doing away with screeners and streaming the films with a password that allows the Academy to keep a tally on how many films a member actually watched would be a much better way to promote fairness in the nomination process.

The framed Academy certificate of membership on my wall reads “Having demonstrated excellence in the art, science, or industry of the motion picture.” It doesn’t say “relevance in popular motion pictures.” I know many extraordinary, devoted and intelligent members who will no longer be able vote under your new rule. Dismissing their accomplishments as being too long ago to matter is a mistake. The new rules may well result in a revolving door of membership, but it will not help the promotion of excellence in film.

The Academy should indeed diversify its membership — it should have done it years ago, but must you demean your older members in the process? Why not simply increase the membership temporarily? In the great film “Hotel Rwanda,” when the sheer numbers of people seeking sanctuary threaten to overwhelm the hotel’s resources, Don Cheadle, as Paul Rusesabagina, says simply: “There’s always room.” There’s always room.

Respectfully,

Stephen Furst

Curmudgeon Films

******

UPDATE #2:

Below is the letter from Bill Mumy to the Academy of Motion Pictures regarding recent changes to the Oscar voting system:


"sharing a letter I just sent to the Academy regarding their recent policy changes..." BM


To Whom it May Concern,

I started working as an actor at the age of five in 1959. I made my debut in a major studio feature film when I was six. I worked prolifically in both features and television and was accepted into the prestigious voting ranks of the actors branch of the Academy in 1975.

Some of the producers, directors and fellow actors I've had the privilege of working for and with include: Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Jimmy Stewart, Shirley Jones, Gene Kelly, Rod Serling, Lucille Ball, Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Stanley Kramer, John Cassavetes, Judy Garland, Martha Coolidge, Jack Palance, Burt Lancaster, Jack Klugman, Ed Wynn, Brigitte Bardot, Cloris Leachman, Claude Reins, Franklin Shafner, Irwin Allen... The list goes on and on and on. My point is: I learned my trade from Masters and I strongly feel that I'm still qualified to view films and share my opinions on them via an Academy ballot.

Sadly, the Academy no longer feels that is true.

I've continued to work as an actor onscreen and as a voice over artist, but it's been increasingly difficult finding A-level representation. Many agencies have told me they feel my having been a child star so long ago is more of a detriment than a benefit. I simply haven't been interested in working in films I've felt had weak scripts or were of an exploitative, negative nature. Nor do I choose to audition for bit parts or work for basically no money. Like so many other Academy members who have a long history in the film industry, you are now punishing me for a lack of consistent employment, when it is beyond my own ability to cast myself or even find representation who can get me into the meetings and auditions these days for quality roles and films in the first place.
I have careers in music and writing and I chose to stay home for several years when my two children, who have both worked as actors in major studio feature films, were young. I don't see why that should now render my vote unworthy.

I'm deeply saddened and disappointed by the actions the Academy has taken, without any discussion first amongst the members, to capitulate to a handful of whiners who threaten to "boycott" by not dressing up, walk the red carpet and sit in the audience because they feel the actors branch didn't do our jobs of nominating candidates for Oscars this year to their personal satisfaction.

The nomination process is not racist. Surely you realize that members of the Academy don't get together in clandestine meetings to discuss who they're going to nominate or not nominate. Personally, I was shocked that neither Michael Caine or Harvey Keitel received a nomination for their excellent work in "Youth", but I certainly don't consider it a deliberate slight because they're senior citizen caucasians.

Academy awards are not about the television broadcast, the dresses, jewelry or the paparazzi and publicity regardless of how much the public and industry folks enjoy that part of it. They are about recognizing outstanding achievements in filmmaking over a years time, regardless of age, gender or color of skin.

Now, I, like so many others, have been relegated to a lesser status by the current administration of the Academy. Booted down to a level where our opinions no longer matter, insulted by the organization that once considered us exceptional. Some, punished for enjoying semi-retirement after working, like myself, for well over half a century. It's ageism pure and simple.

Pretty sad.

In the name of progress?

Peace,
Bill Mumy



Update #3:

From Bill Mumy:

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE ACADEMY POLICY CHANGES AND MY LETTER...

I stand by everything I wrote, but I have been reading (and deleting) some racist remarks, some racist accusations directed towards me and some nasty stuff in general... For those reasons I feel the need to clarify.

My issue with the recent Academy policy changes has nothing to do with color or gender. Since its creation 89 years ago, the Academy has always accepted members based on the work they have done. Period. It has never come with a caveat of having to continue to prove yourself worthy of voting for the Oscars in the prestigious honorary organization. By forcing this new decision on the membership, it creates a stressful and unfair and yes, bigoted policy. It says current working professionals opinions matter more to the Academy than those who have retired or haven't worked very much lately. That is wrong and that, and only that, is what I'm upset about.

I'm all for the Academy adding new members. There is a process. It's simple. A potential Academy member is sponsored by two existing members of the branch they are attempting to join, and then a committee votes on that sponsorship and the person is either accepted or rejected. If the Academy feels they should accept a larger percentage of new members now than they have in the past, that's fine with me. If those new members, all I'm sure quite talented, happen to be of a color, race or gender different than me, who cares? Great. I personally have sponsored people of color successfully into membership.

In my letter I called people "whiners". I've taken some heat for that, but I stand by it. However, I think Will Smith is a truly fine actor. I've enjoyed a lot of his work over the years. I think Spike Lee has made some great movies. "Do the Right Thing" is a brilliant film. I certainly never meant to disparage their body of work in any way at all. I respect what they've accomplished. But I did criticize the Academy board for suddenly announcing these new, and in my opinion, unfair changes immediately on the heels of them threatening to boycott the ceremony because they were disappointed in the nominations. For all I know, Will Smith may have missed out on a nomination this year by only one or two votes.

I feel this newly announced Academy policy of mandating its members to continue to prove their worth by being forced to seek out and get new work in films, movies that the Academy will judge to be "worthy" or not to even count as work in order to continue voting, is totally unfair and a clear example of ageism. Period.

To me, it would be like the Baseball Hall of Fame saying that Sandy Koufax has to go out and pitch a few innings and strike batters out if he wants to have a say in any of the Hall of Fame affairs.

I'm sad that some people found anything in my letter to be racist. It doesn't read that way to me, and that certainly was not and is not the way I think or feel.

Onwards.

Peace


*******************************

More Updates will follow as responses from involved parties permit in the posting of their opinions. 
Thank you
AS

1 comment:

  1. Not long ago, in 2014 Lupita Nyong'o won a Best Actress Academy Award for her role in a film that not only won Best Picture but also Best Adapted Screenplay. This was the same Academy now being accused of racism. Being snubbed is part of the process, not an attack on individuals or races or any other criteria. It happens to many fine actors, actresses, directors, producers, screenwriters and more.

    From what I have seen, Hollywood is incredibly diverse. Now, due to the controversy, it seems that a fine tradition of awards is being compelled to recruit persons of color (and other minorities) for the express purpose of nominating and/or voting for the projects by and starring persons of color (and other minorities). What happened to talent and doing your best, aspiring to greatness, hoping to be recognized against the odds? That is something every creative individual faces, whatever their color. The competition is fierce. Such high recognition is an honor, a distinction to be earned, not a right for all. This has nothing to do with rights but with merit. Attacking cherished and accomplished members of the Academy based on age is atrocious. I think people are far too eager these days to complain and raise a public outcry. Whatever problems do exist within the industry or the world, this is not the way to resolve them.

    Great post, Anthony!

    ReplyDelete