The Oscars reach towards diversity 

By Meagan Kennedy

Elm Staff Writer 

After movements like #OscarsSoWhite pushed for the diversity of filmmakers and actors represented at the Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has begun taking the steps towards the representation of new and diverse members in the Academy.  

On Sept. 8, the Academy announced a rule change in hopes of a more diverse future for the Oscars. 

Beginning in 2024, the qualifications of the Academy Awards Best Picture will see a new criterion, including four groups to increase representation of diverse films.  

Films nominated for Best Picture must exemplify diversity in two of the four groups set by the academy. 

The Academy qualified these four “underrepresented groups” as “women, races or ethnic groups, LGBTQ+, and people with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard at hearing.” 

There must be representation onscreen, among the creative team, among interns and apprentices, or in the audience development team to qualify

According to Vox writer Alissa Wilkinson, Academy membership is “based on factors like years spent working in Hollywood, awards won, and name recognition, and because membership in the Academy is for life, the makeup of the voting body has long been heavily slanted toward older white men.”  

The lack of diversity across the Academy’s members limits the scope of films recognized or even produced. It continues to award the same filmmakers who have established careers in Hollywood, ignoring the stories of less recognized or distinguished filmmakers.

In the past decade, there have been countless calls for more representation and more diverse and inclusive films in Hollywood. 

In 2012, the Los Angeles Times found that 94% of the Academy’s members were white, 77% were male, and only 2% of members were Black and less than 2 identified as Latinx. In 2015, the New York Times reported that 92% of top film directors nominated that year were male, while 86% of top high-grossing films featured a predominantly white cast. 

In the last five years, the representation of women and people of color has steadily increased. However, it will take years to shift the balance from white men that currently make up a large percentage of the members. 

Many have questioned if these rule changes are an authentic change or a publicity stunt to quiet public outcry.

Others have also pointed out that the rules are not nearly as strict as they seem.  

“Recent best-picture nominees like ‘Joker,’ which is top-heavy with white stars but features Zazie Beetz as the would-be love interest, or ‘La La Land,’ a white-led love story with John Legend in a supporting role, could still sail through Standard A with little to worry about,” Kyle Buchanan of The New York Times said. 

According to The Atlantic, these new requirements still leave room for other films featuring a predominantly white cast and crew to have a chance of winning Best Picture by relying on token diversity in other parts of the studio.

The problem of underrepresentation is not just a problem of the awards, but of the entire Hollywood community. The lack of diversity is deeper than which movies are recognized for their potential. There are unfair advantages with large studios who are able to exploit the participation of token interns and other people in the studio not necessarily directly impacting the film’s production. 

Time Magazine writer Andrew R. Chow said, “many studios already have such opportunities which are linked to colleges, meaning their movies would be halfway to Best Picture eligibility without having to consider film personnel at all. Some have argued this rule favors major studios who have the financial resources for internships, but independent production companies are perhaps more likely to meet the guidelines’ other standards.” 

According to Chow, many worry that with the rule change, the authenticity of diverse films or even films featuring a diverse crew could be impacted. 

David Sims at The Atlantic said these new rules “can also reward tokenism, where people of color are hired merely to satisfy a quota…they’re an explicit acknowledgment of the baseline that studios should operate by. On one hand, the requirements are lenient enough that they’re unlikely to cause studios to overhaul their staff. On the other, the standards are so low that it would be embarrassing for an awards contender not to meet them.”

Though we won’t see results until the Oscars in 2024, or movies coming in 2023, a pattern of change is nearer than we might believe. However, it may take years to determine the authenticity and long-lasting impact of these new rule changes.  

Are these rules a significant step in increased diversity and a permanent change in the mindset of the Academy, or will status quo return within the remainder of the decade? 

With the addition of these new rules, only time will tell. 

Featured Photo caption: As the #OscarsSoWhite continues to call out the lack of diversity and inclusion within the film industry, the Academy has presented new qualifications for the next Academy Awards. Photo Courtesy of Jason Dent.

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