Editorial: #Oscarssodiverse now?
After several years of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences being derided with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, the organization has put out new rules requiring that every film up for consideration for a Best Picture Oscar not be so white and male — whether that’s in the story, the cast, the crew, the studio executives marketing the film or the interns hired by the studio or distributor.
Hollywood has been stubbornly hard to change. For decades, the Academy has been assailed for being the champion of a film industry dominated by white men who relentlessly kept out women and people of color. In the last few years, the Academy has increased and significantly diversified its membership. Now, it wants to change the unwritten rules by writing new ones. That’s not a bad objective, it’s just hard to accomplish.
These rules are a little complicated, and they may raise as many issues as they seek to solve. To be eligible for a Best Picture nomination, a film must check at least two of the following boxes: at least one lead actor who is from an underrepresented ethnic group, at least 30% of the actors in secondary roles from various underrepresented groups, or a main story line centered on one of those underrepresented groups; at least two behind-the-scenes creative jobs (ranging from director to make-up artist), six crew positions or 30% of the entire crew filled by underrepresented people; a studio or distributor with diversity-oriented internships and training programs in several departments; or diverse marketing and distribution executives.
So, will the rules prod top filmmakers, producers and studios to be more inclusive in their hiring and do a better job representing the diverse world we live in? Or will they try to comply by installing some Black and brown interns as on-set gophers? Will they balk at having to fill a cast or crew based on a quota system? Will they answer the call with more “Green Book”-like tropes about white people saving black people?
We don’t know and neither does the Academy’s leadership, but it has a little more than two years to watch and collect data before the rules go into effect for films released in 2023.
Academy Chief Executive Dawn Hudson optimistically views the rules as a way not to tamp down ideas but to push people to be more creative. “This is not exclusionary,” Hudson said in an interview. “It’s expanding opportunities. It’s expanding the spectrum of films being made and considered.”
Something has to jolt this industry into diversifying its films and, by the way, its Oscar show, which this year hit an all-time low in the ratings. If this can be the start, that’s promising. It will be up to the Academy to monitor whether filmmakers are taking this seriously, really diversifying casts and crews, and setting up apprenticeship and internship programs that offer a real entry point to aspiring filmmakers.
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