“Long way to go” in diversifying Academy: Williams

Now part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' board of governors, doc director Roger Ross Williams (pictured), tells realscreen about his hopes for inspiring change in the industry.
July 19, 2016

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has named Roger Ross Williams (pictured), director of the Sundance-winning feature film Life, Animated, to its board of governors.

Williams will now represent the documentary branch for the Academy Awards over a three-year term alongside Kate Amend, editor of such Oscar-winning films as Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport and The Long Way Home; and Rory Kennedy, Oscar-nominated director of Last Days in Vietnam.

“We have to raise the next generation that will become the gatekeepers, the agents, the directors and the producers because we can’t sit around and wait around for Hollywood to change.”

Williams will be taking the seat of Zero Days filmmaker Alex Gibney, who decided not to run for re-election. The election process saw Williams beating out such filmmakers as 56 Up director Michael Apted, The Times of Harvey Milk director Rob Epstein and What Happened, Miss Simone? director Liz Garbus.

“As a documentary filmmaker I’m very proud of my community, because we’re leading the way in the Academy, and I’m honored and proud that my community selected me because it’s a statement,” Williams told realscreen in a phone interview. “This is just the beginning, there’s a long way to go in diversifying the Academy.”

Williams is hoping to increase the educational and mentorship programs going forward in an effort to raise the role women and minorities play in the Academy’s board membership.

“When I was growing up, there were no role models or mentors and documentary was something that was never even talked about as a career – it was unheard of because I just didn’t have any reference for it,” Williams added. “For me, it’s about going into communities and saying there’s a whole world of documentary filmmaking or filmmaking in general that’s a great and rich rewarding career.

“We have to start from the bottom up, not from the top down. We can’t expect Hollywood to change, the gatekeepers are the gatekeepers. We have to raise the next generation that will become the gatekeepers, the agents, the directors and the producers because we can’t sit around and wait around for Hollywood to change.”

In addition to Life, Animated, Williams has directed such films as Music by Prudence, for which he was awarded the best short doc Oscar in 2010; and the 2013 Sheffield Doc/Fest-winning God Loves Uganda.

The Academy’s 17 branches are represented by three governors, who may serve up to three consecutive three-year terms. Terms are staggered such that one governor from each branch is up for re-election every year.

The board of governors sets the Academy’s strategic vision, preserves the organization’s financial health and assures the fulfillment of its mission.

Those joining Williams as newly elected board members are Laura Dern, actors branch; Sharen K. Davis, costume design branch; Steven Spielberg, directors branch; Laura Karpman, music branch; and Kevin Collier, sound branch.

A runoff election is required for the film editors branch, which produced a tie between candidates Maryann Brandon and Mark Goldblatt. Voting will begin July 25 and end July 28.

The board of governors also includes three governors-at-large that were appointed by Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs in January. They are Reginald Hudlin, Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Gregory Nava.

The full list of Academy governors can be found here.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.