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Lack of diversity takes center stage at this year's Oscars

Spoiler alert: The off-camera subplot brewing for weeks – the award show’s lack of diversity – could outshine the ceremony.
A man is framed by an Oscar cutout on the red carpet during preparations ahead of the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California Feb. 20, 2015. (Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
A man is framed by an Oscar cutout on the red carpet during preparations ahead of the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California Feb. 20, 2015.

Hollywood's elite plan to suit up in their red carpet finest for the most glamorous night in the movie business. Tens of millions are expected to watch Sunday’s 87th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by actor Neil Patrick Harris.

This year, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman” and Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” lead the pack with nine Oscar nominations each, including Best Picture. Critics also expect Richard Linklater’s coming of age tale “Boyhood” to sweep up awards.

The Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, “Selma,” earned a nod for Best Picture, but the film’s director, Ava DuVernay, and the film’s star, British actor David Oyelowo, both largely expected to be nominated for Oscar gold, were the most glaringly shut out.

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The 20 actors and actresses nominated for the most outstanding performance in a film are all white. That’s the second time in two decades that’s happened.

The award show’s lack of diversity could outshine the ceremony as civil rights groups are now stepping in, demanding a more diverse pool of Academy Award voters. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, announced plans to demonstrate before the live event, according to Reuters.

“We are calling for a boycott of Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony,'' National Action Network political director Najee Ali said at a news conference. “We believe the Oscars need more diversity within its membership.''

RELATED: Quiz: Are the Oscars colorblind?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences count about 6,100 as members, but the organization doesn’t disclose the ethnic breakdown of members publicly. A 2012 LA Times report found 94% of members were white, and 77% were male.

The lack of people of color nominated didn’t go unnoticed on social media. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite quickly became trending topic, with online users slamming the Academy.

Even the first-time Oscar host took a jab at the obvious, sliding in a joke about the lack of diversity while attending a luncheon for nominees.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, swatted down talk of a diversity problem at the Oscars.

“Not at all. Not at all,” she told New York magazine when asked about the controversy. “The good news is that the wealth of talent is there, and it’s being discussed, and it’s helpful so much for talent — whether in front of the camera or behind the camera — to have this recognition, to have this period of time where there is a lot of publicity, a lot of chitter-chatter.”

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday shows that one-third of Americans believe that the Academy has a general issue with minorities.

Still, the show must go on. The Academy Awards airs Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on ABC.