Actor Cliff Curtis (Te Arawa/Ngāti Hauiti) and actor-director Taika Waititi (Te Whanau a Apanui) have been invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Curtis and Waititi, both established figures in the US entertainment industry, join a list of 683 artists and executives who the Academy says have ‘distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures’.
The Oscars Academy has been the subject of controversy this year when attention was drawn to the lack of ethnic diversity among nominees. Only white actors were chosen in the top four categories for the second year in a row in 2016.
The controversy led to a boycott of the Oscars ceremony by African Americans in the industry including Will Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee. The debate also saw the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trend on Twitter as the public voiced their disapproval.
Prior to the announcement of the new membership invites the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences membership was overwhelmingly older, male and white with only 8 percent of members identifying as people of colour.
While welcomed by many in the industry, the new membership drive is only set to boost the Academy’s non-white membership to 11 percent.
Speaking of the new additions Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, herself an African American, says, “This class continues our long-term commitment to welcoming extraordinary talent reflective of those working in film today. We encourage the larger creative community to open its doors wider, and create opportunities for anyone interested in working in this incredible and storied industry.”
When contacted by Maori Television, Curtis expressed excitement about the invitation, "It's a huge honour in our industry and kind of revered. I signed up straight away. So I am actually already a member of the Academy. And still don't really know what that means."
Curtis sees the criticism around the lack of diversity at the Oscars in a positive light.
"The criticism is healthy. It's how society changes and grows and evolves... the way I see it, Diversity is a fact of life. It's the plain truth. Anything less in any social structure is just ignoring the reality of what we are and how life works. So we all just have to get over it and get on with it. Diversity is what makes life interesting and worth living."
Membership in the Academy is by invitation only. Invitations are decided by a revolving Board of Governors. Membership eligibility can be achieved by earning an Oscar nomination, or two existing members may sponsor a candidate.
Curtis currently stars in the popular Fear the Walking Dead television series. Waititi has received widespread acclaim for his latest film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.