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News and Entertainment

Oscars Diversity Rules: Progress or Patience?

ByReiss Bowler

Jun 5, 2021

“The 360” shows you different perspectives on the most important stories and debates of the day.

What is going on

To qualify for the Oscars, films to be considered for Best Picture must meet new diversity standards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Tuesday. The new rules are aimed at increasing the representation of underrepresented groups in the film industry.

From 2024, among the nominees for Best Film, women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people or people with disabilities must play a prominent role, both in front of and behind the camera. The Academy has created four categories of representation that will measure the level of diversity in a film’s cast, production crew, marketing team and the opportunities it presents to young filmmakers. To be eligible, a film must meet two of the four categories.

The Oscars have faced strong criticism in recent years for the lack of diversity among the nominees and winners of major awards – leading to a #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. These new rules are part of an ongoing effort, including adding more non-white members to the academy, to combat that perception. They were inspired by diversity standards used by the British Film Institute to help decide which projects receive funding and determine their eligibility for certain categories in the BAFTA awards.

Why is there discussion?

Proponents of the new diversity rules say they will help improve representation in the film industry, which has been predominantly white and male since its early days. The criteria aren’t restrictive enough to prevent major projects from being made, but will still force studios to consider diversity in their screen and production staff, they say. Others say the main impact of the new rules is the message they deliver, and making good representation as a precondition for the top prize in Hollywood helps establish diversity as a key goal for the entire industry, some argue.

The most outspoken critics of the new criteria argue that imposing diversity rules on filmmakers will stifle creativity. “Can you imagine telling Picasso what should be in his damn paintings? … Control artists, control individual thoughts,” actress Kirstie Alley wrote in a since-deleted tweet. There are also concerns that artists from underrepresented groups will be abused by studios interested only in meeting their diversity quotas.

Others agree with the aims of the rules, but find them far too lax. They say the rules are so broad and take into account so many positions on a movie set that most movies would have qualified in years past – meaning little change will happen. A recent research of the British Film Institute’s diversity standards have found that they have had little impact on improving representation since they were established in 2016.

What’s next

Films that qualify for Best Picture must submit diversity information to the Academy beginning in 2022 before the full requirements take effect in 2024. The next Academy Awards ceremony is scheduled for April 2021, after it has been postponed for two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.


The criteria will hurt independent films while asking nothing from major studios

“It is a huge boon for studio filmmakers to allow behind-the-scenes efforts to take the place of on-screen representation. If you’re directing a prestige movie for Warner Bros. or Universal, you never have to worry about this: someone somewhere will make sure you have the right number of underrepresented interns. If you’re an indie making a movie with little money… well, good luck.” — Sonny Bos, stronghold

There are major hurdles that make the rules difficult to enforce

“There are also legal issues with asking about a person’s sexual orientation/identity or disability status during the hiring process. And the moment when AMPAS will be forced to say whether Jews count or not could be ugly enough to blow this all up.” — Entertainment journalist Mark Harris

The new rules are mostly a PR stunt

“Basically and simply, this is symbolic, and doesn’t solve the industry’s dire representation problems so much as stamp them out of sight.” — Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

The simple fact that the academy has made diversity a priority counts as progress

“A cynic might attribute the Academy’s makeover to concern for his own image — Hollywood is no stranger to vanity, after all. But the commitment to drive structural change is certainly genuine, even if limited by the double demand. respecting ‘tradition’ and not anticipating the slow progress of the industry, so you could say the Academy is doing something, but not too much.” — Steve Rose, the guard

The emphasis on diversity will have an impact, even if the rules are weak

“Will anything really change? Yes, but it’s something much harder to measure: perception. Even if the new guidelines provide adequate solutions, they are likely to encourage filmmakers, financiers and studio managers to take the issue of diversity more seriously. —Kyle Buchanan, New York Times

The rules would be more effective if they only applied to on-screen roles and highest production

“If the Academy were really going to make substantial changes, perhaps they would have required all films to at least meet the criteria for on-screen leadership or creative leadership. … But they didn’t. The guidelines that could have made the most substantial changes in areas that go to the heart of filmmaking are completely optional.” — Gabrielle Bruney, Esquire

The new standards will hinder the art of filmmaking

“That thump you heard coming out of La-La Land on Tuesday was the sound of the Academy grandly planting its face on the sidewalk announcing that it was formally rejecting the pursuit of artistic quality in favor of a Byzantine quota system.” — Kyle Smith, New York Post

The rules will help improve diversity among the next generation of filmmakers

“We have many masters in our industry, from Steven Spielberg to Quentin Tarantino to Roger Deakins. These icons will not live forever. It is their responsibility to pass on their knowledge to the next generation. That doesn’t mean they’re inviting the studio head’s nephew, who already has ample opportunity to follow him on set.” — Clayton Davis, Variety

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; Photos: Getty Images