While Oscar night comes just once a year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences actively supports education, preservation, and film history year-round. One of the ways the Academy is reaching out is by sending past Oscar winners on educational tours — like today when "Precious" screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher will be addressing film production and theory students at the Columbia University School of the Arts in New York at 2 p.m. EST.
"The idea is to expand upon the inclusive spirit of the organization and to make people further aware of the other efforts and experiences that academy members can share," Fletcher told Yahoo! Movies. "I love sharing my experiences with young people who are starting their journey…and part of that is communicating the idea that you may face challenges, some perhaps bigger than you imagined, and you may also achieve your goals, but you may find that you have more bruises and bumps that you may have anticipated."
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Ouch! Surely the Harvard-educated Fletcher is drawing on the years he wrote around 15 screenplays without seeing one reach the screen, only to succeed with the Oscar-winning "Precious" in 2010. Fletcher continued, "All this time, all this rejection, and taking all these jobs outside the film industry, I didn't realize how well that was preparing me to write 'Precious.' She's a person who is underestimated, invisible, and all I had to do was revisit those feelings and expand upon them, amplify them. As the studio so eloquently put it, we are all Precious."
Last February, the Academy came under fire for its lack of inclusiveness. The Los Angeles Times published a study that the 5,765 voting members of the Academy were overwhelmingly white and male, with the majority over sixty. As one of the few black males among those voting members, how does Fletcher suggest the Academy react? "I think it starts with film production," he said, "because the members they accept are professionals in the field, working or otherwise. The membership of the Academy is drawn from that pool, from the population, so that would go a long way."
Ira Deutchman, the host of today's event, and Columbia University Film Program Chair (full disclosure, I attended Columbia), chimed in: "One thing that distinguishes our program is the diversity of students, women in particular. The vast majority of the well-known women filmmakers, from Kathryn Bigelow to Lisa Cholodenko to Kim Pierce, and newcomers Tanya Wexler and Tricia Regan, attended Columbia."
Deutchman concluded, "We're trying to make sure that everything we teach is relevant to people who are planning to be in the film industry. The Academy is more than the sum of the awards. The Oscars are a way to bring in money to fund other programs. They have paid internships, they have funding available, and they're interested in preservation -- things that are directly relevant to our students. Right off the bat it's created an exchange of information that's beneficial to our students and that's what we care about."