posted on: Thursday October 1, 2020
by Grace Whitman ’22 A&E Staff
After the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate a single person of color for Best Actor in a Leading or Supporting Role in January 2016 for the second year in a row, it was blatantly obvious that the Academy needed change. In 2016, 92% of top film directors were men, and 86% of top films featured white actors in lead roles. The lack of diversity reflected in film is an industry-wide problem; thus, a special task force was created to set new representation standards for films to be eligible to compete for Best Picture.
Under the new guidance, filmmakers must fulfill two of the four following standards in order to be nominated for the Best Picture category. The standards will go into effect in 2024, giving filmmakers time to adjust to the new requirements.
In order to meet Standard A, the film must either feature at least one lead actor or significant supporting actors from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, have at least 30% of all actors in secondary and more minor roles from at least two underrepresented groups (such as women, people of color, LGBTQ+, or individuals with cognitive or physical disabilities), or include a main storyline centered around an underrepresented group.
In order to meet Standard B, at least two key crew members must be female, LGBTQ+, disabled, or from an underrepresented racial or ethinic group, or 30% of the film’s crew must be from an underrepresented group.
Standard C requires the film’s distributor to employ apprentices or paid interns from underrepresented groups.
Finally, Standard D requires the film company to have executives in its marketing, publicity, or distribution teams that are members of these underrepresented groups.
The reaction in the film industry has been incredibly mixed, with some people expressing disagreement over the decision. Dean Cain, known for playing the role of Clark Kent/Superman in the television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, was a major critic of the new requirements, tweeting on Sept. 8, “How about we judge on this criteria—which film was the BEST PICTURE? (also, when do we start handing out participation Oscars?).”
Other critics believe that these new requirements reflect affirmative action because they supposedly put race as a predominant factor in choosing the winner. These critics believe that the best film should win, regardless of its commitment to diversity and inclusion. Additionally, many believe that these new standards will not change the practices or stories being told through films, but will only serve as a quota that films will need to meet.
On the other end of the spectrum, many actors and actresses have shown their support for the Academy’s new requirements, applauding the new guidance as a much-needed step toward building an industry that truly reflects its audience.
Hollywood Producer DeVon Franklin, who played a large role in creating the new guidelines, was asked about the controversy in an interview with Deadline Hollywood. In response, he said, “We do think that actually when people take a moment and read through the standards, and see that there is so much flexibility, it will actually help inform how they are looking at it. When you are just reading a headline, it is easy to react but when you actually get into the standards and how much flexibility there is for filmmakers and studios and many major distributors to apply it really enhances the creative process. It doesn’t restrict it.”
As Franklin explained, films still have several behind-the-scenes ways of achieving eligibility for Best Picture through the new standards. Despite their criticism, the new requirements still allow for creative freedom that could help to make the industry more inclusive. The new requirements will allow movies to reflect the diverse audience and industry populations.
Although there have been mixed reactions to the Academy’s decision, the progressive intentions of the new requirements will enhance creativity and allow for the advancement of inclusion in the entertainment industry. With these new diversity standards, the Academy has taken definitive action against the systemic inequalities in Hollywood.