Oscars Debut “Diversity Criteria”
For some years now, the image of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts Awards, otherwise known as The Oscars, has been under steady and continual attack from critics and fans who think the ceremony and the awards are intolerably biased. Over time, these challenges coalesced into social media campaigns such as the “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag campaign.
While many social media campaigns come and go as the perspectives of the public shift, this one stuck, leading the New York Times to credit the hashtag for “changing” the Oscars, pushing back against what the newspaper called “entrenched disparities.”
A few months after that article was published, the Academy announced its new “inclusion standards” for best picture nominees. According to press reports about the issue, beginning with the 96th Academy Awards in 2024, all best picture nominees must “address gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and disability in front of and behind the camera” if they want to qualify for the award.
To “address” these standards, films must include these factors in four different categories, including on the screen, among the crew, at the studio, and in training or development of new talent.
The announcement almost immediately started trending on social media, prompting several stakeholders to release statements. And, despite listing specific requirements, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said the new inclusion standards are not about meeting requirements. “It isn’t just about meeting the minimum requirements. It’s how we change the intentions in the industry and in filmmaking… We want success across the industry.”
To achieve that “success,” some said, promoting inclusion is only the beginning. Paramount Pictures CEO Jim Gianopulos said change doesn’t come without some variation of views, “Nothing is absolutely perfect, but this is a very progressive effort to make change…”
Gianopulos was one of the key figures in the “task force” recruited to develop the criteria, along with producer DeVon Franklin. Some are already pushing back against the standards they put in place. Some of the most popular accusations are that this is simple “virtue signaling quotas” in a way that will “inhibit art and artists…”
Still, there are some who said the inclusion initiative did not go far enough. Stacy Smith, who directs USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, told the Associated Press she appreciates the effort, but little has changed. “I want to commend them for trying and for putting together a criteria, because we know criteria is a way to counter bias… but we’re not seeing anything that will push the conversation forward. They’re not aspirational in any way…”
Franklin, the producer who worked on the project with Gianopulos, said, “This is about broadening the definition of excellence, not about exclusion… We feel like (the standards) give filmmakers and studios an opportunity to make the movie they want to make and have flexibility in how these standards ultimately get applied…”
And, so, the rhetorical lines are drawn in the sand. Some say this is a good step in the right direction. Others say it’s not far enough. The public will have the chance to vote on social media and with their wallets over the next few years, as these narratives continue to play out.