The Oscars’ new best-picture standards are a meaningful, and reasonable, effort to diversify Hollywood

Turner Classic Movies host Dave Karger represented many in Hollywood Tuesday night, after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a historic shake-up in the eligibility requirements for the best picture Oscar. While the plan will be fully implemented for the 2024 awards, the earth moving was felt immediately in the industry town epicenter.

“My first thought was, ‘Wow, this feels severe,’ ” says Karger. “But when I actually read through it all, I realized these are actually reasonable, yet still very meaningful. This is a tough line to walk.”

Finally, the Academy has taken concrete action against the systemic problems that have led to glaring racial inequities in Hollywood’s stories and storytellers. Five years after #OscarsSoWhite crystallized these inadequacies with an all-white slate of acting nominees, and in a year marked by racial protest following the death of George Floyd, there are clear steps to address the issues head-on.

After continued efforts to diversify the Academy voting body by widening the net beyond a majority of white males, this is the crucial next move.

Specifics in the plan will draw shouts from detractors. But it takes digesting the changes in their entirety to fully appreciate the importance and practicality of their scope.

For the 96th Oscars in 2024, films vying for best picture must meet two out of four standards to be deemed eligible for best picture.

The first standard is the one catching the attention and upon which most outcry has fixated.

Best picture shake-up: Academy announces new diversity and inclusion standards

Standard A requires a film submitted for best picture have at least one lead actor or significant supporting actors from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, or at least 30% of all actors in secondary and minor roles from underrepresented groups (including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people and those with cognitive or physical disabilities). Or have a main storyline, theme or narrative centered on an underrepresented group.

Some immediately assumed the Academy would dictate content – incorrectly concluding the new requirements would rule out a best picture run for movies like last year’s nominee “1917,” a World War I story revolving around white male actors.

But the plan put forth by the Academy allows for ways to tell this and any story, leaning into other facets of improving diversity not as outwardly apparent as the stars and what’s seen on the screen. As Karger says, “That’s the beauty of this plan. There are many ways to clear the bar here.”

So if Standard A isn’t met, films still have several behind-the-scenes ways to achieve eligibility. Standard B focuses on diversifying creative leadership and crew roles. Standard C focuses on industry access, calling for films to provide paid apprenticeship, internship and skill development to underrepresented groups. Standard D requires that a film’s marketing, publicity and distribution teams include multiple in-house senior executives from underrepresented groups.

Any two standards met equals best picture eligibility. The movie audience won’t even see many of the key structural improvements.

Academy exceeds inclusion goal after #OscarsSoWhite: New voters are 45% female, 36% diverse

The changes were met with knee-jerk reactions on social media. Longtime Academy member and “Cheers” star Kirstie Alley colorfully Twitter-labeled the new rules as “dictatorial, anti-artist” and something out of “Oscar Orwell.” (She later deleted the tweet and added, “I am 100% behind diversity inclusion & tolerance. I’m opposed to MANDATED ARBITRARY percentages relating to hiring human beings in any business.”)

But far from Orwellian, the Academy is saying to compete for its top prize, the film or filmmakers must aspire to higher ideals of better representation in some form. Filmmakers and studios can decide which route they take.

“They’re on a mission for change, and if filmmakers want to win a best picture, they’re going to join this mission, too,” says Jazz Tangcay, artisan editor for industry publication Variety.

Some of the behind-the-scenes standards are so achievable, if not existing in many films today, that many voices have decried that the plan doesn’t go far enough. “So in many ways, the Academy is taking fire from both sides, which they might see as a sign that they’ve done something right,” says Scott Feinberg, awards columnist for The Hollywood Reporter.

With the requirements unveiled too late Tuesday to dominate the news cycle, there was an overnight opportunity to absorb, process and consider some complicated ramifications. These will be amplified in the days, weeks and even years ahead as issues involved with making this plan a reality come to the surface. There are many. But there’s time to hammer out the specifics.

A 2024 official start gives filmmakers and studios time to adapt their plans, and the Academy time to adjust and finesse its requirements as issues arise.

Meanwhile, the plan compels unprecedented forward movement toward a racially diverse future that goes beyond well-meaning words.

“So many doors are going to open with this new policy,” says Tangcay, “This is going to be huge.”

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