The effort to diversify the Academy of Motion Pictures has encountered an obstacle in the form of a 91-year-old screenwriter who says he is being discriminated against because he is “old and white”.
Robert Bassing, a member of the Academy since 1958, received a letter saying that his voting privileges for the Oscars may be revoked.
Lorenza Munoz, the Academy’s managing director of membership and awards, wrote in the letter that the potential change was due to his lack of recent activity.
But Mr Bassing responded by saying the Academy is “trying to reduce the number of old white men so they can meet their numbers”. The row follows last year’s uproar over the lack of racial diversity among Oscar-winners.
Scoffing at Ms Munoz’s suggestion that he might be able to become an emeritus Academy member – which would allow him to view film screenings but not vote – Mr Bassing told Hollywood Reporter the offer was like saying “we’re going to put you in a very nice cattle car.”
He has threatened to sue the Academy if his voting privileges are taken away. There’s a lot of old people in the Academy that have very little left in their lives, he told CBS Los Angeles. The one thing they have is that they can go to the academy, they can evaluate films and they can cast their vote. To have that taken away, I think is cruel.
It is unclear how many members have been advised that they may lose their votes, but the move has ruffled some feathers in Hollywood.
“It’s a thinly veiled ploy to kick out older white contributors, the backbone of the industry,” according to Tab Hunter, the 85-year-old actor who starred in Battle Cry and That Kind of Woman among other films.
The Academy was severely criticised earlier this year when, for the second year in a row, all 20 nominees for the four major acting awards were white.
The “Oscars so white” controversy loomed over the 2016 Academy Awards, with the likes of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee boycotting the show.
The Academy pledged sweeping reforms to bring more minorities into the fold, one of which was diversifying the group which votes for the awards.
Mr Bassing resents the idea that removing him would help rectify the situation.
“The old white men my age, we are the people who fought for civil rights,” he told Fox Los Angeles. “That was that generation. We were the people fighting for civil rights and diversity long before these people ever heard of it.”
He added: Don’t throw the members under the bus, or put the old people out to pasture.”
The Academy responded to Mr Bassing with a statement saying that it was “proud to lead the change we must see across the industry”, adding that its membership “represents filmmakers and artists ranging in age from 24 to 91”.
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