Entertainment & Arts

Animal House actor Stephen Furst laments Academy rule changes

Stephen Furst Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Stephen Furst says the Academy needs to start a streaming service for the eligible films

Actor Stephen Furst, known for Animal House and Babylon 5, has publicly hit out at Oscars organisers over their proposed membership and rule changes.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has pledged to double female and minority members amid a row over the lack of diversity in the nominations.

Furst said the Academy was being ageist and sexist in blaming its membership, made up largely of older, white men.

He said the problem was not enough members watching all the films.

Furst suggested the Academy was to blame for this by not keeping tabs on just how many of the advance screening DVDs, which members are sent, were indeed being watched.

"One of the many reasons for the lack of diversity in nominees this year is that many members vote without watching all the films," he said in a open letter published by Variety.

The all-white line-up in the four acting categories for this year's Oscars has prompted protests from actors and film-makers.

Among them, director Spike Lee, actress Jada Pinkett Smith and her husband Will Smith announced they would not be attending next month's awards.

The main criticism levelled at the Academy has long been that its members are disproportionately, older, white, middle-class men.

'Saddened and offended'

In response to the growing protests, the Academy said it was going to create three new seats on its board of governors to improve diversity in leadership.

Image copyright Film Publicity
Image caption Beasts of No Nation starring Idris Elba was just one of the films Stephen Hurst says he voted for

It also said voting rights would be stripped from those who had not been active in the industry for the past decade.

Academy president Boone Isaacs said in a statement the move would "begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition".

But Furst, 60, expressed his disdain at the "disturbing" move.

"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."

He said he feared he, and fellow older, male members, would be branded "irrelevant" from now on.

"The Academy can't fight issues with diversity by engaging in ageism and sexism," he said, adding that there was absolutely no proof that he or other members like him, were in any way "racist, do not appreciate the art of minorities, or refuse to vote for minorities' work".

On the contrary, Furst said, he fully recognised that "diversity in film is important, and having that diversity represented in Oscar nominees is important".

Streaming and passwords

Furst highlighted that he nominated the films Straight Outta Compton - about the rap group NWA; Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba, and actors Abraham Attah, Zoe Saldana, Jason Mitchell, and Tessa Thompson for awards.

He also assessed the Academy's definition of "inactive" as troublesome and claimed the award show's inclusion problem "is an integrity issue, not a racism issue".

As a solution to the diversity problem, Furst suggested the Academy should do away with its system of sending out screening DVDs.

He said a better way of ensuring members saw all the eligible films, would be to provide a password-protected streaming service that would allow the Academy to keep a tally of how many films members actually watched.

Analysis by Chris Foxx, BBC technology reporter

While an online portal might encourage reviewers to pay equal attention to all the nominees, it's by no means a fool-proof solution.

Some of the films that go up for consideration are still in cinemas, and film studios would have concerns about putting copies of those on the internet.

Even if the films were only available to stream online, screen-capture software would make easy work of recording copies, and watermarks can be easily obscured.

Simpler still, would-be pirates could just point a camcorder at their monitor - poorer picture quality is not usually an issue for people desperate to see the latest releases without paying.

Of course the same could happen to the DVD that is currently sent to reviewers - but that is harder to intercept.

A streaming website might become a target for mischief-makers, keen to leak the names of films and stars being considered for awards. Not everyone that goes online is cybersecurity-savvy and many users make their accounts vulnerable.

Even if security concerns could be addressed, a website couldn't prove that reviewers had stayed awake all the way through a film - and even if they had, it wouldn't address any bias the reviews may harbour.

This, Furst concluded, would be a much better way to promote fairness in the nomination process.

"The Academy does not have power over what films producers and studios make, but the Academy can take steps in assuring that members 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 session."

Related Topics

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites