The last three weeks have seen seismic changes in the way we as a society view instances of race, justice, and privilege. One of those avenues is in the form of reevaluating content. Celebrities have been asked to become more vocal about their humanitarian causes, while others have been criticized for myopic beliefs. HBO Max even took the step of temporarily removing Gone with the Wind from its library, deciding that it can do without promoting a film set in the slave era for the time being. Whether you agree with these measures or not, the importance of the moment cannot be denied.
In that vein, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced a new initiative to address the diversity issues that have plagued it for some time. This year, the Academy made history by awarding the Oscar for Best Picture to Parasite, the first ever foreign film to receive the honor, and in the wake of years of #OscarsSoWhite controversy, it’s looking to get ahead of the issue for once.
Today, the Academy unveiled the “Academy Aperture 2025” program. This phased initiative aims over the next five years to focus on more inclusion among membership, foster new grants and development opportunities for under-represented groups, and hopefully create new generations of leadership. It also makes two major changes to the Academy Awards starting next year.
First, on the membership front, the Academy is continuing with its unconscious bias training that it began back in January. Every branch governor is required to take the course every year, and now they’re opening it up to all membership if they wish to take part. Secondly, the Academy is imposing term limits on the individual branch governors. With requisite grandfather clauses, moving forward, a member may only spend a total of 12 years as the governor of their respective branch, in the form of two blocks of two three-year terms with a two-year hiatus in between.
For example, if Michael Bay gets elected as the Directing Branch governor next year, he would be up for reelection in 2024. If he won again, he would be forced to step down in 2027, and would not be able to run again until at least 2029, at which point he could get two more terms, up to the year 2035. After that, he could never run the Directing Branch again.
It’s a little bit convoluted, but the goal is clear, and that’s a rotation of new, diverse leadership within each branch. The branches are the entities that nominate in the individual categories, and the last thing we want is more “gatekeeper”-style leadership where only the friends and colleagues of the governors get any real consideration, especially in bake-off categories. The bigger the variety of people you have running the branch, the less likely that becomes. With the lifetime limit of 12 years, you even mitigate the possibility of revolving door cronyism. I’m not saying this will be a perfect system, but it is certainly encouraging.
But the big story is the new rules for the Oscars themselves. These will go into effect for the 94th Academy Awards in 2022, so the rules established earlier this year are still binding for anything coming out in 2020. The new rules are:
1) Best Picture will be locked at 10 nominees. THANK. YOU! Ever since the field was expanded in 2009, the limit has been 10, but they only did it twice, for 2009 and 2010. Every year after that it’s been either eight or nine nominees, and every time it’s felt like they either a) artificially inflated the list with films they had no intention of honoring (Lady Bird and The Irishman immediately spring to mind), or b) noticeably left something off the list when compared to other entities like the Golden Globes, Producers Guild, BAFTAs, or the AFI Top 10. The glaring omission this year was Knives Out, a universally-agreed upon great comedy, reduced to a single nomination for the screenplay.
2) The Academy Screening Room, an online hub of all submitted films that can be viewed by members for nomination and voting purposes, will expand to include quarterly viewing windows. This is a much-needed change for three main reasons. First, it might help to finally solve the problem of the absolute glut of prestige films we get backloaded into the last two weeks of the year for eligibility. With quarterly viewings, we could see a larger effect where studios change their release schedules to get attention to their better films throughout the year, rather than just December.
Second, this can help mitigate the very issue raised with the other rule change. We see the Academy filling out the Best Picture slate basically based on whatever buzz the studios and their marketing teams create at the very end of the year, often without even seeing the films before they nominate. As such, great films from earlier in the year get ignored or forgotten entirely, and something worthy that has a mistimed marketing campaign can get utterly snubbed and left by the wayside. Even if members can’t rate or vote in March, they can still watch everything available to that point and take their own notes, allowing for more apples-to-apples comparisons at the end of the year, which hopefully will lead to a more diverse slate of nominees. Films like Get Out and Black Panther are anomalies, in that they got nominated despite being released in February, chiefly due to studios not having confidence in the financial success of “black” films. They had to have an enormous impact on audiences to stay in the Academy’s collective consciousness long enough to get the recognition they deserved. If members are watching them on an official basis much closer to their release, there’s a bigger chance that films like these can get their proper due. Even if the effect isn’t immediate, it never hurts to watch more stuff and get a wider variety of contenders.
Third, given that the Academy is made of working professionals, this just simply allows them more opportunity to view new content and art that they wouldn’t otherwise get. These 9,000+ people are busy sometimes year-round. They don’t always have time to watch whatever screeners get sent to them by the studios in their For Your Consideration campaigns, and even if they did, they got other shit on their plate, too. I mean, if I had been shooting for nine months and my options upon completion were to spend time with my family or watch 100 DVDs in a weekend, guess what I’m doing, and I’m a movie obsessive.
This can only be a good thing. It aids diversity, allows for more informed voting by the membership, and possibly forces studios and advertisers to rethink their tired practices. This has the potential to right a structural wrong that has been at the forefront of the Awards process for decades.
So yeah, more diversity, new leadership, more viewership options, and a solid slate of 10 Best Picture nominees? Outstanding. I hate the circumstances that had to happen to finally force the Academy’s hand on some of these issues, but the end result is something I’m all for.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What do you think of these inclusion initiatives? What effect will the Oscar rule changes have? Does anyone have a password for the Academy Screening Room that I can *ahem* borrow? Let me know!