The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced new inclusion and diversity rules that will take full effect in 2024. Films that fail to meet at least two of the four new guidelines won’t even qualify for an Academy Award nomination, much less take home the coveted Oscar.
Before I proceed, an explanation is warranted. Prepare to see the word “underrepresented” often. Do not confuse it with “minority.” According to more than one thesaurus, synonyms for “underrepresented” include discriminated, belittled, diminished, demeaned, and marginalized.
Thus endeth the lesson and continueth what Oscar is up to.
Three of the four new Academy of Motion Picture stipulations cover roles behind the scenes and the inclusion of diverse groups—race, women, LGBTQ, and individuals with disabilities like deafness. In other words, a much higher percentage of executive, crew, and paid apprentice positions must be filled by those who meet the Academy’s definition of “underrepresented.”
The fourth requirement, which is listed first by the Academy—concerns the actors, as well as motion picture themes. Eligible films must meet one of the following three criteria:
1. One lead or primary supporting actor in the cast must hail from an underrepresented ethnic/racial group.
2. 30% of the ensemble must be made up of underrepresented groups (women, POC, LGBTQ+, disabled).
3. The storyline or theme must focus on the underrepresented groups mentioned above.
I learn from and enjoy films that tell stories about individuals who have struggled with discrimination. Green Book and Dallas Buyers Club are good examples. The former snagged an Oscar for Best Picture; the latter took two Best Actor statuettes.
But if all filmmakers opt for criteria number three that falls under stipulation one, will movie buffs be forced to say goodbye to adventure films like The Avengers and Star Wars? Will anyone dare produce movies based on history, films like Braveheart, Schindler’s List, and Cold Mountain?
In theory, the Academy’s new rules have a fair and balanced ring to them. This is America, after all. Individuals should have equal opportunity to vie for jobs regardless of race, gender, and disability. And at the end of the interview process, the best-qualified candidate regardless of race gender, and disability—not because of—should get the job.
Which brings us back to reality. Can the Academy successfully integrate these changes without becoming, as actress Kirstie Alley said, “dictatorial” and “anti-artist”?
According to Newsweek, The British Film Institute (BFI) has a similar system which is considered a failure to date. Yet, BFI is almost giddy that the American Academy has modeled its new diversity standards after its peer across the pond.
You can bet Oscar is making both friends and enemies with its new rules. Culture critic Sonny Bunch tweeted, “The Academy is finally—finally! doing something to ensure that underrepresented groups have a shot.”
On the flipside, actor and adopted West Virginia son Dean Cain said, “How about we judge on this criteria—which film was the BEST PICTURE?” In Cain’s view, the Academy may as well start handing out participation Oscars.
Richard Grenell, former acting director of national intelligence, believes the Academy’s move is political. Grenell said that the award now called “Best Motion Picture of the Year” will become “the Most Politically Correct Picture.”
Grenell’s observation doesn’t shed light on anything new. With each passing awards season, the Oscars increasingly sacrifices rewards for creativity in favor of sending political messages.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been drawn to independent films. Many are Oscar-worthy but lack the “proper” agenda and influence to be contenders.
Don’t lose any sleep over the Academy’s new rules. 2020 feels more like 1984, which means the road to 2024 could be short or long. It matters not. Movie fans may say goodbye to Hollywood sooner than later.
writer, blogger, columnist