The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just announced a major overhaul of its standards for Oscar eligibility, focusing on representation and inclusion. Reply guys and anti-PC Twitter users are furious online—but they should relax.
The rules include requirements for diverse hiring both on-screen and behind the camera, covering underrepresented ethnic groups, women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people. Filmmakers will also be encouraged to provide paid internships to a similarly diverse pool of trainees.
The rules will kick in gradually over the next four years. For the 2022 and 2023 Oscars, best picture contenders will have to submit confidential reports on how they tried to follow the new inclusion guidelines. By 2024, best picture contenders will be required to follow two of the four “standards” published by the Academy.
Those four standards cover on-screen representation, creative leadership, industry access for underrepresented groups (i.e. internships and apprenticeships), and audience development (which covers the film’s PR team and studio executives). So for on-screen representation, filmmakers can qualify by either casting a lead actor from an underrepresented group, or at least 30% of the background cast, or telling a story about an underrepresented group.
These representation standards are a big step for the Academy, offering some genuinely helpful advice on how filmmakers can make their movies more inclusive. However the rules—which only apply to films courting a best picture nomination—are much less strict than they seem at a glance. This isn’t a situation where the PC Police will summarily arrest Noah Baumbach for making another film about white people getting a divorce, as critics online have been saying.
If you look at the Academy’s announcement on Twitter, you’ll see predictable complaints about “forced diversity” and political correctness. But in reality, these rules would already allow most prior best picture nominees through the door, including films that don’t seem “inclusive” at all. As New York Times film columnist Kyle Buchanan points out, The Irishman and Marriage Story—a pair of movies about straight white people, directed by straight white men—are both acceptable. They both fulfill two of the required categories because their creative teams included female department heads and a diverse PR department.
The new Academy guidelines suggest two key goals: making on-screen representation more inclusive and encouraging a more diverse pipeline of film workers behind the scenes. On-screen representation is the most visible element here, and people are already cracking jokes about sexist filmmakers giving “wife characters” a couple of extra lines to fulfill a quota. Likewise, it’s perfectly possible to make controversial movies like Green Book, which featured racism prominently, while acing the Academy’s request for inclusive casting.
Because filmmakers are only asked to follow two of the four categories to be best picture eligible, the rules really aren’t impinging on anyone’s creative vision. You can still win best picture with a movie exclusively starring Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gary Oldman. You just can’t have your entire production and marketing team be made up of straight, white, non-disabled men. And most films already have women running the costume, makeup and/or hair departments, which fulfills one of the main requirements in the Academy’s “creative leadership” section.
These rules may also evolve as the Academy irons out the kinks, including the legal and ethical questions around asking potential employees to reveal their disabilities or sexual orientation. Some departments also need to be diversified in different ways. For instance, Latinx and Asian people are notably underrepresented on-screen; cinematography is an unbelievably male-dominated field; and white women are already over-represented in the hair, makeup, and costume departments, but still “count” under one section of the new inclusivity standards. So for now these rules are a “wait and see” situation, as the industry responds to the Academy’s announcement.
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