Kenyan film-maker Judy Kibinge has been invited to join the Oscars Academy; the elite institution that chooses which films to give the gong to for the annual Oscar Academy Awards; which are, the most prestigious film awards in the world.

Upon receiving this great news, Kibinge was floored “Whoa!” she posted on her Facebook page: “Blink! Blink! What a list. Honored!”

A decade before Lupita Nyong’o broke through in her debut film role to win an Oscar, Kibinge was just joining the film directing game (with Dangerous Affair in 2002), having quit her job as McCann Erickson’s Creative Director. Kibinge had been at McCann Erickson for eight years and made many award-winning commercials. The next ten years would see Kibinge mostly direct, sometimes produce, and once or twice script a number of films – starting with The Aftermath (written by the reclusive Andia Kisia) in 2003, on to the popular Project Daddy, then Bless This Land, A Voice in the Dark, then coming of age with Coming of Age in 2008, Peace Wanted Alive. Her projects also include the great Killer Necklace (that won Kibinge a Kalasha Award in 2010), Tinga Tinga Tales the next year and in 2013, and Something Necessary that was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. Kibinge was also drained, in energy and pocket, by Wagalla – the Story of a Massacre a couple of years ago, then made Headlines in History as well as getting money from The Ford Foundation to start DocuBox.

#OscarsSoWhite

Kibinge’s prestigious first as an Oscar Academy member, one of 774 people invited to join the club this year, would not have been possible if not for all the noise black Hollywood elites made a few years ago when no person of colour was nominated for an Oscar award (ironically, a year after Lupita had won the award).

Read: On the white Oscars and the black boycott

#OscarsSoWhite also known as Oscars So White or Oscar Whitewash is a hashtag used to protest the underrepresentation of people of colour in the annual Academy Award nominations. The hashtag came into use during the 2015 award cycle, and re-appeared in 2016. The hashtag was coined by the blogger April Reign. Reign called for a boycott of the ceremony by those who cared about the fact that, besides a best picture nod for the Martin Luther King, Jr biopic Selma and a best director nomination for Alexander Iñarritu, there were no people of color nominated in any of the major categories. “It’s not because there’s a lack of quality films that star or feature people of color; that’s not the issue. There was an article in The Atlantic recently which indicated who the Oscar voters are. They are 94 percent white, 76 percent male, and the average age is 63 years old … and they might not be as interested in seeing ‘Selma’.”

Leornado Di Caprio on winning his first Oscar MARK RYLANCE, BRIE Larson, Leornado Di Caprrio, Alicia Vikander
Photo: Disney, ABC Television/Flickr

This onslaught led Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to release a statement via The Academy’s official Twitter account to address the controversy surrounding the lack of diversity on the list of nominees. Isaacs acknowledged the widespread criticism, and pledged to make necessary improvements

The Gatekeepers of the awards are thus opening the gates of judging to more women, and more people of colour, and it is through this affirmative action that creative and dedicated Judy has joined The Oscar Academy. Kibinge is currently a “mature student” (50) in the university of Maine, in spite of having a family and career back home, and describes her weekdays as “running around, reading and swotting” late into the night. On weekends “I’m partying with the young’uns, travelling with the good people of Maine and seeing as much of this beautiful landscape as I can,” she says. Soon, she will have to be watching a whole year’s worth of films too, to decide who is next year’s Lupita.

Oscar Academy Diversity

This year marks the second year in a row that the institution has broken its own record; last year, it sets a new high-water mark by inviting 683 new members.

Read: Malian director Cisse joins the Academy Class as Oscars begins addressing diversity

Among the high-profile actors newly invited to the Academy are “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot, “Moonlight” Oscar nominee Naomie Harris, Donald Glover, Chris Hemsworth, Riz Ahmed, Adam Driver, Dwayne Johnson, Priyanka Chopra, Leslie Jones, Betty White, Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Anna Faris, Margot Robbie, Channing Tatum, Kristen Stewart, Shailene Woodley, Ruth Negga, and Rupert Grint.

The Oscars have previously been criticised for lack of diversity in the nominations. Photo: now-here-this

Directors invited to join the new class include “Moonlight” best-picture winner Barry Jenkins, “Get Out’s” Jordan Peele, “Suicide Squad’s” David Ayer, Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures”), and the Russo brothers (“Captain America: Civil War,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”).

The new class, representing 57 countries, is 39 percent female, the Academy notes. This marks an uptick from the previous 28 percent, and the 27 percent in 2016. Seven of the branches — actors, casting directors, costume designers, designers, documentary, executives, and film editors — invited more women than men this year.

Additionally, people of colour make up 30 percent of the new class — a significant statistic following the #OscarsSoWhite protest. According to the Academy’s announcement, there has been a 331 percent increase of people of colour invited to join the Academy from 2015-2017.

The Academy has vowed to make its membership better reflect the world demographics, after many years of criticism that women, racial minorities and international artists were under-represented. As a result, the number of new-member invitations has risen steadily.