Shah Rukh Khan was overlooked by the Academy for membership, but that's hardly its only misstep
Sections of the Indian press had a field day on Sunday, 2 July, and it was all at the cost of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which gives out the Oscars each year). They attributed a statement to the Academy, seemingly explaining why Shah Rukh Khan's name was not included in the list of the newly inducted 774 members, eligible for voting rights for the next Academy Awards.
Let the truth be told firstly: no statement was issued by the Academy — no matter the furor created by Shah Rukh Khan’s fan club after voting rights and membership were extended to Bollywood luminaries like Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Irrfan Khan (but not SRK). Apart from these actors, the list also features Indians who are celebrated names in the fields of script writing, documentary filmmaking, direction and costume designing.
The bylaws posted on the Academy website (Oscar.org) clearly state the eligibility to become Academy members. It mentions: “Invitation to active membership shall be limited to those person active in the motion picture arts and sciences, or credited with screen achievements, or who have otherwise achieved distinction in the motion picture arts and sciences and who, in the opinion of the Board are qualified for membership.”
After reading the bylaws, it’s pretty clear that someone, somewhere goofed up and created a mess in extending the Academy membership to actors. It surely is baffling that names like Mammootty, Mohanlal, Kamal Haasan — and Shah Rukh Khan — have conveniently been ignored despite fulfilling the parameters of ‘distinction’ as mentioned by the Academy.
It’s again is a goof-up when you look at the name of actors who have been extended membership this year. Against the name of every actor, the titles of two films too are mentioned, which in all probability the Academy believes defines them. It’s baffling to see The Great Gatsby and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham mentioned against Amitabh Bachchan's name. The mention of The Great Gatsby is itself questionable, but why on earth include Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, a mediocre or average film at best, when there were choices galore?
But then the Academy has made other, more notable slip-ups.
The moment from the 2017 Oscar night comes to mind when La La Land was announced as the winner over Moonlight in the Best Picture category. Many consider this the biggest faux pas in the 89-year history of the Oscars.
The 2017 ceremony also witnessed another blunder, when the 'In Memoriam' reel was being played, to honour all those members of the film industry who had passed away that year. The reel featured an image of producer Jan Chapman (who is very much alive) in place of the late costume designer Janet Patterson.
Back in 1964, when Sammy Davis Junior was asked to present the trophy for the Best Musical Score, he announced Tom Jones as winner of the category — when Tom Jones wasn’t even nominated in first place. It was only later that the singer was handed over the correct envelope by the Academy and Irma La Douce rightly got its award.
In 1974, it was the security that was to be blamed. Security was breached — and how! It all happened moments before host of the evening David Niven asked Elizabeth Taylor to present the Best Film trophy. An art gallery owner and gay rights activist Robert Opel interrupted the live telecast when he took a small jog on the stage — stark naked.
One may argue that these are organisational slip-ups, of the sort that any big event is likely to run into at some time or the other. But the Academy has a different class of misfires to its 'credit' as well.
The Academy did the unthinkable in 1993 when it banned three stars from attending the ceremony henceforth. When Richard Gere was invited by the host to present the award for Best Art Direction, he deviated from the Academy’s defined norms and instead tried to raise awareness about human rights violations in Tibet by the Chinese government. The same treatment was meted out to couple Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon when they tried to speak of the plight of Haitian refugees. They protested against the detention of Haitian refugees who tested HIV positive in Guantanamo Bay prison. All three were subsequently banned by the Academy, though it was later revoked. While Sarandon — three years later — reached the podium after winning the Best Actress trophy for Dead Man Walking, things were never the same for Richard Gere. Gere was almost boycotted by major Hollywood studios and since then has been mostly relied on indie films to sustain his acting career.
Then, in 1999, the Academy created a furor when it announced that the Lifetime Achievement Award would be bestowed upon Elia Kazan, the celebrated director. For people who are not aware of Elia’s past, he was also the man who in his second testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee, informed on his friends who were members of the Communist Party. This was the era when McCarthyism had engulfed Hollywood. The most astonishing thing was that Kazan never apologised for his act. When he came to receive his award, most were astonished at the Academy’s choice.
The instances mentioned above are just a few where the Academy made some notorious missteps. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign which gained momentum in the wake of the 2015 and 2016 Academy nominations will have its reverberations in the coming years too.
Meanwhile, the omission of some of India's noted performers from its list only goes to show that when naysayers proclaim that the Academy is not to be taken seriously, they may have a point. The omission of Shah Rukh Khan, Mammootty, Mohanlal and Kamal Hassan is only reflective of the fact that mandarins of Hollywood still largely drive the Academy. The Academy’s website can proudly talk of extending membership to 774 artists from 57 countries, but the truth is, most of the countries don’t feature in their scheme of things. If the man who opened the doors of Indian cinema to the West is not known to the Academy, one can only feel sorry about it. It seems Shah Rukh Khan needs to do a lot more in America to be known better. Airport mishaps are passé.