representation matters

The Oscars introduces new diversity criteria for Best Picture contenders

Winners of the 2017 acting Oscars: Mahershala Ali, Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Casey Affleck
Winners of the 2017 acting Oscars: Mahershala Ali, Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Casey Affleck (Photo: Shutterstock)

In a bid to boost diversity both on-screen and behind the camera, the Academy Awards has announced new diversity criteria for movies wanting to be considered for the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar.

From 2024, producers and studios wishing to enter a movie for the Best Picture category will also need to submit a confidential form on the diversity of the cast and crew. A movie will need to fulfill two of four new standards to be eligible (the form will be introduced from 2022, but the Best Picture threshold will only take effect from 2024).

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The four standards are as follows.

Standard A: The movie must have a lead or “significant” supporting actor from an “underrepresented racial or ethnic group,” or 30% of the more minor roles must come from under-represented groups (women, certain racial or ethnic groups, LGBTQ, disabled). Alternatively, the main storyline may be focussed on under-represented groups.

Standard B: At least two of the creative heads among the crew – director, casting director, costumer designer, etc – are from underrepresented groups (again, women, racial or ethnic groups, LGBTQ or disabled). Alternatively, at least six of the crew are from under-represented racial groups, or 30% of the crew come from under-represented groups.

Standard C: “The film’s distribution or financing company has paid apprenticeships or internships”, from the underrepresented groups, including LGBTQ and certain ethnic groups, as well as offering training opportunities and skills development for individuals from these groups.

Standard D: The final standard concerns the marketing and distribution departments of movies, saying, “The studio and/or film company has multiple in-house senior executives from” the aforementioned groups (women, certain ethnic groups, LGBTQ and/or disabled).

Once again, a movie only needs to meet two of the above standards (a point lost on many of those reacting to the announcement).

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In a joint statement fully explaining the initiative, Academy President David Rubin and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said: “The aperture must widen to reflect our diverse global population in both the creation of motion pictures and in the audiences who connect with them. The Academy is committed to playing a vital role in helping make this a reality.”

Aside from Best Picture, the other Academy categories will keep their current eligibility requirements.

Predictably, the announcement has been met with a mixed reaction online.

Actors Kirstie Alley and James Woods were among the first to slam the decision.

“This is a disgrace to artists everywhere,” said former Cheers actress Alley. “Can you imagine telling Picasso what had to be in his fucking paintings. You people have lost your minds. Control artists, control individual thought .. OSCAR ORWELL.”

Woods simply called it, “Madness.”

Also wading into the debate was the gay, former diplomat, Richard Grenell.

“It’s no longer the Best Picture, it’s the Most Politically Correct Picture.”

Others welcomed the move.

Some say that the rules don’t go far enough or are not as stifling as some would suggest. For example, they point out that hair, makeup, and costume departments tend to have a high number of female employees already, making that an easier standard to achieve.

Franklin Leonard, founder of screenwriting network The Black List, said: “Somewhere between 95-100% of films that would have even been considered for an Oscar have nothing to worry about, and the very few that have cause for concern can solve that problem with a comparatively extremely low resource expenditure.”