Only ‘diverse’ films can now be nominated for best picture at the Oscars

The Academy introduces a new diversity criteria to fight bias in its nominations, but how successful will it be?

by Tom George
10 September 2020, 11:23am

It’s no secret that The Academy Awards struggle with a diversity problem. It was only four years ago that #OscarsSoWhite was trending while film stars boycotted the event to criticise the lack of POC or minority actors and storylines being nominated. After the furore, The Academy seemed to listen, and following a shake up of its membership, doubled the number of women voting last year, as well as tripling the number of members from under-represented ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Now, the Academy is going further. Today it has announced that films vying to join last year’s winner Parasite in the category of Best Picture will have to meet two of four new standards for having a diversity of underrepresented groups within its cast, key crew members, interns and marketing team. The standards define those as ‘under-represented’ in the industry as women, racial and ethnic groups, the LGBTQ+ community and those with disabilities. The criteria is set to be implemented for the 2024 roster of films, with all pictures until that point having to submit an Academy Inclusion Standards Form for consideration.

Will this make much of a difference to the Oscars diversity problem? Critics don’t seem hopeful. Though the casting standards call for a lead or at least 30% of the cast to include members of at least one underrepresented community, films can still pass the criteria by meeting two of the other fairly vague standards: Onscreen Representation, Themes and Narratives; Creative Leadership and Project Team; Industry Access and Opportunities; and Audience Development. This means that technically a film with a cast of entirely cis-gender straight white men could still be nominated, even win the award.

Interestingly, in the last few years the Best Picture award has actually been taken by amazing films that highlight minority narratives — such as Parasite and Moonlight — while the real issue the Oscars still needs to face is the lack of representation in their recognition of POC and minority actors. Halle Berry, for instance, recently pointed out in an interview with Variety that her win for Best Actress in 2002 was the last time a black woman has won the prestigious award.

Is this a step in the right direction? Yes. But whether the Academy continues to fight its entrenched diversity problem and instead seek to celebrate films and casts of all backgrounds and communities remains to be seen.

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