TORONTO – Oscar-nominated actress Alfre Woodard wants to clear up some misconceptions about the diversity reforms within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The AMPAS member, who serves on several of its committees, says the changes announced in recent weeks have actually been under way for the past six years.
“I think people are getting the idea that because there was a threatened boycott that we suddenly said, ‘OK, well let’s do something about it,'” says Woodard, who will receive the inaugural career achievement award at the Toronto Black Film Festival, which runs Feb. 10-14.
“People need to know that those changes were thoughtfully under way.”
Woodard, who was in the city in 2013 when “12 Years a Slave” screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, was referring to a vow by director Spike Lee and actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith to not attend this year’s Oscars gala on Feb. 28.
They’re upset with two straight years of all-white acting nominees, which sparked public outcry and the social media campaign #OscarsSoWhite.
“The other reaction that people are having, that, ‘Oh, so now it’s kind of like affirmative action to get into the academy’ … that’s just reactive claptrap,” she says.
Academy admission rules and requirements haven’t suddenly changed, Woodard notes. AMPAS has made a conscious effort in the past six years to think “outside the box” and broaden its outlook during its admissions process every year, she says.
“Instead of just thinking of the people on your block that might be qualified for membership … think about people who don’t live near you who are qualified,” says the 63-year-old, who’s won a Golden Globe and four Emmys.
“So it’s opening up the circle of looking at people who are qualified to be in.”
That includes looking at younger talent.
“If you’re 75 years old, you may not know the 25-year-olds that have the qualifications and the brains to be a great addition to this body,” says Woodard.
“We have been very conscious of making sure that there were younger people considered every year as well.”
Woodard says she feels “the real problem” is which films get made, “and the academy has nothing to do with that.”
“That falls on the shoulders of studios, production companies, investors. It’s where the money goes.”
She also notes that “brilliant people” have been left out of the Oscar nominations every year, in every discipline.
“There are always going to be people who are left out…. That’s the nature of a vote and you can’t control that.”
Woodard says the goal for those in the industry should just be to keep making films and get them out to the public.
“It’s not trying to accumulate Oscars, because you’re squeezing yourself — you’re forcing your art, which should be a wide open flowing stream, into a little narrow crevice, chasing something that is anathema to freedom and creativity,” she says.
Most of the time those trying to win an Oscar are ultimately disappointed, she adds, noting that there are other honours out there.
“Maybe you get a Critics’ Choice Award, maybe you get a BET Award, maybe you get an ALMA award,” says Woodard. “There are plenty of awards shows.”
Woodard will be at the Toronto Black Film Festival on Feb. 13 for a Q&A on her career and her new film “Knucklehead,” which is screening at the fest.