Oscars Diversity Rules Set New, Safe Standard for Film

By Samuel Still, Asst. News Editor–

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the governing body in charge of the Academy Awards (or: Oscars), has established new diversity standards that films must meet to be eligible for the Academy’s most coveted award: Best Picture. At face value, these new standards seem like a groundbreaking shift to Hollywood’s status quo, which has historically been male and white, but, upon further inspection, the standards do not significantly impact the Oscars race, but they do provide hope for a more diverse future.

The new rules, which go into effect in 2024, establish a refreshed set of criteria that films must be able to meet to be eligible for Best Picture. The criteria are as follows: 1) The main cast, ensemble cast and/or narrative should center members from underrepresented groups such as people of color (POC), LGBTQ people, women and/or disabled people; 2) creative leadership and department heads, overall crew and other key roles should include individuals from underrepresented groups; 3) paid apprenticeships, internships and training opportunities should be given to a certain amount of people from underrepresented groups; and 4) marketing, distribution and publicity departments must have members from underrepresented groups on their teams.

It would be easy to look at these new standards and think that Hollywood has finally embraced diversity and inclusion, but it should be noted that the criteria are not particularly difficult to meet, especially when a film only has to meet two out of the four to be eligible for Best Picture. As David Sims writes in The Atlantic, “… the standards are so low that it would be embarrassing for an awards contender not to meet them.” For the most part studios can already achieve these standards with little to no effort. For example, Joker (2019), which was nominated for Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards, would still qualify for the award because it has a female producer, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and a black actress, Zazie Beetz, in a significant supporting role. This is just one example, but the point is that most studios will have no problem meeting these standards.

So, if most films are still eligible for Best Picture, the question could be asked: what is the point of the new rules? I can see why someone would ask this, and I too wondered this after looking through the criteria. After further inspection, I think I may have found a reasonable answer. While these criteria are safe and easy for most studios to achieve, the purpose of the rules is to alert the industry to the fact that diversity and inclusion are important, and in moving forward, Hollywood needs to think more about whose stories are being told and who is getting to tell them. Hollywood has historically been a straight white man’s world enabled by decades of nepotism, racism, misogyny and other forms of bigotry. As a result of this history, opportunities for minorities have been few and far between, but with the new rules, the Academy is ensuring that moving forward the industry thinks of diversity and inclusion just as much as it thinks of money and awards. Nate Jones, writing for Vulture, said “a norm can be easily thrown aside; a rule can’t,” and I am inclined to agree.

Ultimately, I feel that the new diversity and inclusion standards are “safe” and may not do much at first, but my hope is that by establishing these new rules, the Academy has set the film industry on a path towards greater representation in front of and behind the camera. Representation matters, and as an avid film fan, I look forward to the prospects of a more diverse and inclusive industry where more stories are being told and in turn get to receive the great honor that is a Best Picture nomination.

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