2020 has been an exceptionally odd year for Hollywood. COVID-19 has irrevocably changed how the entertainment industry releases new content and conducts things like film productions and award shows, but social unrest throughout the U.S. (and the world) has also led to many studios trying to rapidly adapt to the changing political environment that they see themselves in. To wit, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has released new standards for “Representation and Inclusion” that will apply to Best Picture nominees starting with the 96th Oscars in 2024. These standards list a set of qualifications that Best Picture nominees must fulfill in order to qualify for their nomination; if they don’t, they won’t be considered for the award.

The actual process and rulesets that the standards require are not particularly complex, though they do require some explaining. In essence, there are four ‘standards’ listed by the Academy, and in order for a movie to be nominated for Best Picture, said film must achieve at least two of the four standards that are listed. 

The standards are, essentially, as follows: 

  • Standard A requires that a lead or major supporting actor come from an “underrepresented racial or ethnic group,” or that “at least 30 percent” of all actors in smaller roles either come from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, are women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, or are individuals with cognitive or physical disabilities (hereinafter referred to as “underrepresented groups”). The standard is also fulfilled if the main plot of a film centers on people from an underrepresented group. 
  • Standard B requires that at least two individuals who are members of the behind-the-scenes staff be members of an underrepresented group and at least one individual is a member of an underrepresented racial or ethnic group (director, costume designer, editor, makeup artist, etc. are all examples of roles that fit the requirement). Alternatively, the requirement is fulfilled if at least 30 percent of the film’s crew are members of an underrepresented group. 
  • Standard C is fulfilled if the “film’s distribution financing company” offers paid internships that are “inclusive of underrepresented groups,” or if said companies offer training for “below-the-line skill development” to individuals from underrepresented groups.
  • Standard D is fulfilled if senior executive positions from the marketing, publicity, or distribution teams are individuals who are members of underrepresented groups.

These standards only apply to Best Picture nominees, with the academy stating that “All categories other than Best Picture will be held to their current eligibility requirements.” (The academy’s full announcement can be found here.)

So far, reactions to the standards have been somewhat mixed. Some, such as Actor and Academy Member Kristie Alley, have criticized the news. “The new RULES to qualify for ‘best picture’ are dictatorial . . . anti-artist . . . Hollywood, you’re swinging so far left . . . .” said Alley. Others, such as Whittier College Film Professor Patti McCarthy, see the change as more positive. “The new Academy rules assure that those who have been marginalized and underrepresented in the past — both behind and in-front of the camera — will finally have that opportunity to be both seen and heard. Representation IS important,” said Professor McCarthy. (You can read her full response here).

What a lot of industry analysts are pointing out, though, is that these standards don’t go quite far enough. Every Best Picture winner of the past 15 years qualifies under these new rules, including Argo (2010), The King’s Speech (2012), and The Departed (2006), all of which qualify mostly due to Standards C and D being very easy to fulfill for major studios, most of whom already focus on possessing a diverse marketing staff and offering paid internship opportunities to underrepresented individuals. In essence, the new Best Picture requirements are the Academy saving face, announcing that they’ll work towards greater representation in the film industry, while not actually changing all that much about how they operate.

While this new rule set may be a step in the right direction, it’s unlikely to lead to any direct change in the Oscars or the film industry in the next few years. The best that can be hoped for is that decisions like this start building into bigger and bigger moments that might eventually lead to a more inclusive and diverse entertainment industry. Until that starts to happen, though, it seems that not much will actually change about the Academy Awards or the industry at large.

Feature image: Courtesy of centralcasting.com.

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