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The Chronicle

The Chronicle

The Chronicle

In the age of equity, are the Academy Awards’ diversity rules sparking true progress?

by Martin Vorel
by Martin Vorel

The 2024 Academy Awards, to be hosted on March 10, are groundbreaking for a number of reasons. For the first time in history, more than one foreign-language film is in the running for Best Picture…not just two films, but three. An unprecedented three films directed by women are also up for the same award. Steven Spielberg makes history this year as the individual with the most Best Picture nominations ever, nominated this year as a producer of Bradley Cooper’s kaleidoscopic Leonard Bernstein biopic, Maestro.

The set of regulations dictates a film’s eligibility for the Best Picture award based on the meeting of two out of four inclusivity standards outlined in the Academy’s Representation and Inclusion Standards Entry (RAISE) form, which is mandatory for all prospective Picture nominees.

The four standards cover on-screen representation and narrative inclusion. Films can fulfill this guideline in many forms, such as the casting of underrepresented groups in at least 30% of extra/minor roles or featuring a storyline centered on a member of a marginalized group. Other forms in which films can incorporate these standards include hiring of artists from underrepresented populations in creative leadership roles in costumes, producing, and other departments, representing minorities in on-set intern and apprentice opportunities, and the presence or hiring of studio executives from these groups.

The industry has found a way around these standards and given the RAISE form a new meaning. This is seen in the recent film, Oppenheimer – which features an entirely white cast and whose narrative never veers away from its white male protagonist, but has an Asian executive producer, a female costume designer, and production company officials from groups historically underrepresented in the film industry but still remains entirely eligible.

The rules have received expected criticism from diverse industry faces for years leading up to their implementation this awards season. A week after their announcement, Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón spoke about the policies in IndieWire saying, “The interesting thing is that it’s not coming naturally. Everybody has to respond to outside pressures. That’s a little bit disappointing — that it needs to go through rules and regulations for things to happen when it should just be a natural process of societal evolution that apparently is not happening.”

Interestingly, for four years before the 2020 announcement of these rules and during the 3 ceremonies since, all Best Picture winners adhered to the guidelines now in effect. The larger question appears to be whether or not these divisive regulations will measurably improve industry conditions for its most unsupported groups and why they were deemed necessary to begin with.

Oscars, Creative Commons

To the marginalized and underrepresented, these mandates seem to come too little too late to truly stand for the liberation of subordinated groups. Only in 2018, after three waves of modern feminism and a movement recognizing a culture of sexual misconduct among one of the state’s largest industries did California pass a mandate requiring the appointment of at least one woman to every publicly-traded corporation’s executive board, which was struck down in 2022.

In addition, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rushed to invite a more diverse population to their membership after years of white-male-dominated awards seasons, including an infamous year of all white nominees in 2016 and the summer of Black Lives Matter protests.

The new rules may appear to combat against harmful identity politics. Perhaps to others, it is a necessary step forward to ensure all individuals have a chance to be honored with careers and awards in the arts.

Announcing mandates that agree with popular ethics and standards of film production, as well as the progressive tastes of Academy voters over the last decade. It seems like a tactic to cover the Academy’s faults, in order to save their reputation

Attempts to increase viewership by appealing to dwindling attention spans, or the appearance of embracing minorities despite the diversity policies’ performative or corporatized nature. The decision to publicly release these guidelines at all feels more like a PR stunt than an admittance of wrongdoing.

This year, four of the ten nominees for Best Picture center on female storylines, which feature non-white characters in prominent roles and there are eight nominated producers that are women. While there has been an increase in diversity that can be seen over the last decades of Oscar nominations, regardless of firm and official guidelines, the celebration of equity must be held in tandem. Say what one will about the worthiness of each Best Picture nominee’s recognition this year, but not only did it achieve a cohesive cinematic vision more successfully than others, but also more diverse choices in far more daring and intellectually-stimulating ways.

Not all representation is created equal, and to correct the inequalities and injustices of film history, films must not only be crafted by and showcase those whom Hollywood brushed over in the past, but must be created with humanity, integrity, and attention. The Academy diversity rules may not drastically improve the state of equity in cinema or the quality of diverse stories presented to audiences, but if anything are a wakeup call that, in the film industry and across the country, cultural change for the better must and has always started from the ground up.

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