Kobe Bryant, who shared an Oscar this year with Glen Keane for the animated short Dear Basketball, will not be allowed to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. A select group of Academy members were informed of the decision yesterday in a letter from Bill Kroyer, one of the governors of the Short Films and Animation Branch.
Per Academy tradition, people who are nominated for an Academy Award, and especially those who win their category, are often offered an invitation to join the Academy branch representing their craft. While all winners and nominees are considered for membership, they are not guaranteed an invite. For example, Marc Sondheimer, the producer of Pixar’s Oscar-winning Piper, was not given an invitation, and neither was the singer Adele after she won an Oscar for best original song for Skyfall.
In Bryant’s case, the Short Films and Feature Animation branch followed tradition and voted to admit Bryant into their branch. In a rare move, however, the Governors Committee of the Academy overruled the Short Films & Animation branch, voting to rescind Bryant’s invitation.
The governors committee reasoned that Bryant, who wrote, produced, and narrated Dear Basketball, needed to show “some evidence of a larger career” in the branch that he’s joining.
Kroyer presented the branch’s arguments to the Academy governors committee, telling them that Bryant has an “expressed desire to continue working in short films,” but the governors said that the standard of having an established career had been applied to applicants in other branches, and insisted that it be applied toward Bryant.
The Short Film and Feature Animation branch have decided to not appeal the Academy’s overall decision.
For the animation world, it’s a missed opportunity to have a well known figure like Bryant represented in the Short Films and Animation branch, especially after the tremendous success he experienced with his first project. Bryant has shown himself to be involved as a member of the animation community, attending many events including multiple editions of the ASIFA-Hollywood Annie Awards. It seems odd for the Academy to penalize Bryant for having a young filmmaking resume, especially seeing as how they have been trying to encourage fresh and diverse voices to join the Academy.
Looking at it from another angle though, Bryant was a controversial Oscar nominee. Many people questioned the Academy’s choice of nominating someone who has had rape charges filed against them, especially at the height of the #metoo movement. In fact, over 17,000 people signed a petition asking the Academy to take away Bryant’s nomination.
If Bryant’s personal history was taken into account, the governors committee did not make it clear to the Academy members who were informed of the decision. Even if that history were taken into account, it’s not a good look for the Academy: they come across as a privileged boys’ club that protects its own — John Lasseter remains a member of AMPAS despite a lengthy history of inappropriate behavior — while denying up-and-coming creative talent an equal opportunity to join.