Entertainment & Arts

Oscars: New Academy member 'will judge on merit'

America Ferrera, Idris Elba Anika Noni Rose, Brie Larson, Jacob Vargos, Sia Image copyright PA/ Getty Images
Image caption [L to R; top row first] America Ferrera, Idris Elba, Anika Noni Rose, Brie Larson, Jacob Vargos and Sia have all been invited to join

The organisers of the Oscars have invited a record number of new members to vote in next year's ceremony, in response to the #OscarsSoWhite furore.

John Boyega, America Ferrera and Idris Elba are among 683 industry figures who have been invited to join the Academy.

It follows criticism of a lack of diversity at this year's ceremony where all the acting nominees were white.

Several famous faces boycotted the Oscars this year in protest at the lack of nominees from ethnic minorities.

One of the new members, British casting director Shaheen Baig - whose credits include a number of high profile films and TV series, including Brighton Rock, Locke and Peaky Blinders - tells the BBC she plans to judge films purely on merit.

How does it feel to be invited to join the Academy?

It's a real thrill, and it feels like an achievement for everybody. There are a lot of young actors that have been invited and it must be so exciting for them as well.

It feels like a recognition of your work and your place in the industry. I just hope I can use my vote responsibly, wisely and creatively.

How were you first approached?

I was contacted by the head of the European division of the Academy to ask if I'd be interested in joining.

It wasn't something I'd thought about before - I'm a member of Bafta already, but never thought I'd be a member of the Academy.

You have to fill out a form and get people to second you. Then it all goes off to LA and I didn't hear anything for a couple of months. But then I got an email in my inbox saying "Welcome to the Academy," so it's kind of amazing.

There was of course a very big campaign to open up the Academy and make their membership much broader, but I wasn't given a specific reason as to why I was chosen. I think they just wanted new members, and I think the European division has become a bigger entity too - more visible.

Do you think the invitation of new members is a response to the #OscarsSoWhite movement?

In many ways, yes - it would be impossible not to respond to what happened this year, but I feel they have tackled it head on, and I think it's brilliant to have so many women invited into the Academy.

And the diversity issue, having more people of colour, I think that's essential - and that's something that if it wasn't there before, they are trying to put right now.

I am really happy the #OscarsSoWhite movement happened, because the issue of diversity in our industry is a huge and hot debate at the moment, and I think it's really important that all awards ceremonies take on board and reflect the society we live in. I think it was a very important thing to happen.

I think there's still some way to go - but we're in a better place now than we were this time last year.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption All of the winners in the acting categories of this year's Oscars were white

How will you use your vote - do you judge on merit or do you hope to give more of a voice to under-represented films and actors?

I always vote on merit, whether I'm voting for the Baftas or anything else. And I hope members will be presented with choices that are really diverse, so whatever the longlist or shortlist is, the voters are presented with a broad and well thought-out selection.

How much impact do you think the new members will have on next year's nominations list?

I'm sort of fascinated to find out! I think it is a very interesting mix of people they have invited in. In terms of ages, ethnicity and background, it feels very varied, which is great. And hopefully that will be reflected in the nominations.

The Oscars have been criticised for putting forward the same bunch of people every year, so hopefully what will happen is we'll start to see fresh talent pushing through.

Do you feel daunted by the number of films you'll have to watch?

There's not enough hours in the day! It is really hard, but I've done it before for the Baftas and the BIFAs. And for everybody that has done that, you sort of enter a twilight zone of lots of screenings.

Do you think there's more to be done in the coming years to increase the diversity of the members?

Yes, absolutely, and I hope that they push on in this vein. Start as you mean to go on. What they've done this year has been brilliant, and I hope that continues.

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