#OscarsNOWhite – Academy Unveils Representation Standards

It’s amazing to me that one of the few good things to happen this year is the complete overhaul of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to finally address the myriad issues that have been raised for the past decade. All it took was a massive expansion of membership, anger over a whitewashed racism movie winning Best Picture, and a calendar year so fucked up where everyone is just so completely over pandering bullshit to finally make it happen. Compare this to two years ago, when sagging ratings led to the temporary addition of a Popular Film category and the relegation of specialty categories to the commercial breaks – both of which were rescinded after a HUGE backlash – and it gives you just a little bit of hope that the Oscars will not only be more relevant going forward, but also get THAT much closer to awarding the right films for the right reasons.

The latest change, announced today by the Academy, is a new set of standards for inclusion and representation for films submitted for the Best Picture category. It’s a comprehensive and aggressive new rules system that some might see it as an overcorrection. But for me, this is just a giant step in the right direction, because it gets to the heart of one of Hollywood’s biggest issues, and not in a token way like, say, the Bechdel Test.

Part of the Academy Aperture 2025 Program announced earlier this year, the new rules will not technically go into effect until the 96th Oscars four years from now. However, starting in 2022, studios and producers who submit a film will have to also turn in a form to the Academy listing the demographics of their cast and crew – confidentially – even if it doesn’t meet the new standards. For the rest of the general ballot, the normal eligibility rules will still apply, and for the specialty categories (Animated Feature, Documentaries, etc.) there will be separate standards on a more individual basis, as sometimes the constraints of certain productions simply won’t allow for the films to meet these new criteria.

You can find the Academy’s official press release here. Essentially, the inclusion and representation process is broken into four groups, and a film will only be eligible going forward if it meets the standards in at least two of them. Let’s take a look.

On-Screen:
There are three ways a production can pass the test for on-screen content.
1) At least one lead or significant supporting actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.
2) At least 30% of the ensemble cast consists of at least two of the following groups: women, minorities, LGBTQ, or the handicapped.
3) The main story is centered on one of these four aforementioned groups.

That’s a fairly significant hurdle to clear for mainstream Hollywood right there. There are a ton of films, including previous Best Picture winners, that would have a lot of trouble meeting that requirement. Right off the bat, Lawrence of Arabia comes to mind, as it has the significance of being the only Best Picture winner to have no credited women in the cast. There’s a harem scene, but none of the dancers are listed in the credits. The only significant minority in the cast is Omar Sharif, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. That’s it. One of the most revered films in history would only pass this category because of Omar Sharif.

Creative Leadership:
There are three ways to pass this test as well.
1) Representation for women, minorities, LGBTQ, or the disabled as the department heads in two of the following areas: Casting Director, Cinematographer, Composer, Costume Designer, Director, Editor, Hairstylist, Makeup Artist, Producer, Production Designer, Set Decorator, Sound, VFX Supervisor, or Writer. At least one of those department heads must be a racial or ethnic minority.
2) At least six technical crew positions filled by underrepresented minorities. Production Assistants do not count.
3) At least 30% of the crew be made up of those four aforementioned groups.

This is an easier hurdle to clear for prestige films, as the major design departments are usually led by women and minorities anyway. For example, this year’s Makeup & Hairstyling category at the Oscars had three of its five nominees comprised of women, and the winner, Bombshell, was led by Kazu Hiro from Japan. A production can easily fill at least two of the department heads with underrepresented groups without changing much about their normal processes.

Industry Access:
There are two criteria here, and a production must satisfy both of them in order to qualify.
1) Paid interns, specifically in production and distribution. On the production side, the four aforementioned groups (with an emphasis on racial or ethnic minorities) must be represented among its internship and apprenticeship roles, with a minimum of two (one minority) for smaller studios and independent productions. For distribution and financing, the four groups must also be represented.
2) The productions must also have career development programs for below-the-line workers from those four groups.

I don’t know how hard this will be to implement, but I’m 100% behind it. First of all, unpaid internships are just legal forms of slavery, and they should be abolished. You want labor, pay for it, period, whether they’re in school or not. Two, I know from personal experience how hard it is to break into the entertainment industry. I’ve been working my ass off for 15 years, six of them here in Los Angeles, and I’m only just now starting to get a foothold. Networking is hard. Finding opportunities is even harder, especially when productions don’t actively advertise their job openings. Giving young talent the guidance needed to do good work and keep finding work is essential to the future of the industry, and not just to prevent insular hiring and nepotism, which will still run rampant no matter what.

Audience Development:
There’s only one criterion here, and that’s having the studio or film company have multiple senior-level executives in their marketing, publicity, and distribution departments from the four underrepresented groups.

This is just common sense. If you want to appeal to a wider audience, hire people who come from those demographics. There’s a reason prestige films don’t always rake in the money at the box office, and that’s because the average movie-goer can’t see themselves in the film. Part of the tragedy of Chadwick Boseman’s loss was that Black Panther finally showcased a superhero who minority audiences could relate to, and now he’s gone. An untapped well of fans finally saw themselves in a major blockbuster, and he was cruelly taken away. You want your film to resonate? Put the people you want to reach on the marketing team, because they know how to appeal to their communities. Any studio or production who fails at this aspect is just shooting themselves in the foot, financially and for the awards circuit.

* * *

So that’s the latest. In four years, any movie hoping to vie for the Academy’s top honors will have to meet at least two of these four standards. It’ll be a tall order for many studios, no doubt. But the way I see it, if you want to be called the best, put in the work.

Join the conversation in the comments below! What do you think of these new rules? Do they go too far? Do they not go far enough? Do you think it’ll lead to more accessible films at the Oscars? Let me know!

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