And while non-whites are overrepresented as moviegoers — spending a disproportionate amount of money at the box office — that's certainly not the case for those who get to pick Oscar nominees.
The makeup of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Science's voting membership has long been secret. The Los Angeles Times created a big stir in Hollywood when it published an analysis in 2012, breaking down the demographics of the 6,000-plus voting members.
The numbers were stark: The academy's voting members were 94 percent white and 77 percent male. Just 2 percent of voting members were black and fewer than 2 percent were Latino. The median age was 62.
A year later, the Times found that, despite efforts to diversify the academy's ranks, the demographic needle had barely moved: 93 percent white, 76 percent male.
When asked for more recent membership figures, the academy told The Washington Post via email last week: "We do not provide demographic information on our members."
Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in a statement Sunday that she was "heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion," and pledged to take "dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership."
Indeed, gaining admittance to the academy hasn't been easy. To be eligible, you have a couple of options: Get recommended by two members or get nominated for an Oscar. Even then you're not guaranteed a spot. Branch committees — specific to actors, directors, etc. — decide who gets an invite. And while nearly half of voting members are still working in the film industry, hundreds more have left. The Times analysis found that there was even a nun among the voting ranks.
The criteria have changed over the years. "We are an organization that has been around for 85 years," then-academy president Tom Sherak told the Times in 2012. "But if I sat here and you asked if every single member of the Academy met those [admission] rules, I would say to you, 'No, they haven't.' Well how did they get in? Their peers voted them in. … Is everybody perfect? No."
After its demographic makeup became the stuff of headlines, the academy made big public commitments to diversity. Boone Isaacs — a black woman who was once the sole person of color on the academy's board of governors — noted Sunday the changes the academy has made over the previous four years to diversify its membership.
"But the change is not coming as fast as we would like," she said. "We need to do more, and better and more quickly."
In an effort to make the voting membership less white and less male, the academy has broadened its pool of invitees. After averaging 133 new members a year, the academy doubled its invitations in 2014. And last June, 322 people were invited, representing a group more diverse than usual. Boone Isaacs said at the time it was a move toward "a normalization of our membership to represent both the industry and the country as a whole."
Of the 25 actors invited in that 2015, 17 were white. Three invitees were black: Gugu Mbatha-Raw ("Beyond the Lights"), Kevin Hart ("The Wedding Ringer") and David Oyelowo ("Selma").
But because membership is for life, it may be a long while until any major demographic changes take hold.
[This post, originally published Jan. 16, has been updated.]