“I was shocked. It was completely out of the blue. I was dumbfounded,” Kimberly Elise said by phone from her Los Angeles home. The Minneapolis native was nonplussed by the call she received from her agent June 29 informing her that she had been inducted into the ultimate Hollywood insiders’ club, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “I’ve been out here for almost 20 years,” she said, “and to have my opinion included in the pinnacle of our industry is quite an honor.
Elise, 46, is a four-time NAACP Image Award winner whose myriad acting credits include “For Colored Girls,” “Beloved” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” While she had no insight into the selection process that invited 276 newcomers into the Oscar voting pool, she ventured, “I believe it has to do with my body of work. I imagine with has to do with your work and your pedigree within the industry.”
Twenty-one other actors including Rosario Dawson, Paula Patton, Jennifer Lopez, Sandra Oh, Danny Trejo and Michael Pena received the call. Prince was tapped along with nine others to join the musician’s wing of the organization.
"These individuals are among the best filmmakers working in the industry today," said Academy President Hawk Koch.
Industry observers believe the Academy is hoping to make its membership more inclusive. A Los Angeles Times study found last year that the academy’s voting members were disproportionately white, male and older than 50.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be part of the community not just through my acting but as part of a major organization,” Elise said. “This is a statement of, ‘We recognize your work, we appreciate your work. We want you to be a part of what we’re doing.’ It’s the appreciation of the artists who make up the Academy and that’s a great feeling.”She said she intends to use her new clout as a voter to ensure that every film artist whose work deserves attention will get due consideration in the awards process.
As for the Academy’s attempts to increase diversity, she said, “I don’t think I’ll be their token Vegan. There’s a lot of us out here.”