Home Commentary What the Academy’s new eligibility standards say about Hollywood

What the Academy’s new eligibility standards say about Hollywood

by Lola Cardona September 29, 2020
What the Academy’s new eligibility standards say about Hollywood

This attempt to inspire inclusivity doesn’t strike the root of the diversity problem

On Sept. 8, 2020, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a new series of eligibility standards for the category of Best Picture. As expected, this caused a storm of conflicting emotions.

Personally, it led me through a wave of frustrating questions.

Here’s a brief summary of the new eligibility rules: there are four standards, and a film must meet at least two to be considered. These rules won’t be imposed until 2024.

Standard A has to do with representation on-screen, meaning either one lead actor must be from an underrepresented group, OR 30 percent of the ensemble cast must be from an underrepresented group, OR the main subject matter of the film must concern an underrepresented group.

Although the Academy has a different definition of “underrepresented group” for each standard, it is generally defined as anyone from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, women, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities.

Standard B concerns creative leadership and project teams. So, at least two creative leadership positions or department heads must be minorities (director, writer, editor, casting director, costume designer, set, director, cinematographer, VFX supervisor, etc), OR six people in technical crew positions must be minorities (gaffer, first assistant director, script supervisor, etc), OR at least 30 percent of the crew must be minorities.

Standard C concerns industry access and opportunities, which requires the film’s distribution or financing company to provide paid apprenticeships and/or internships for underrepresented groups. Also, there must be training opportunities and skill development for crew members of a minority group.

Standard D concerns audience development. The film studio must have multiple in-house senior executives from underrepresented groups.

Realistically, it wouldn’t be hard for a film to reach these standards — the issue is the fact that they had to be made in the first place. According to Variety, some Academy voters, who consist of people who work within the film industry, skimmed through the rules and assumed it would be the end of their creative dreams; people felt that they were being told what to do with their art. Actor Viggo Mortensen said that he felt it was “exclusion, which is discrimination” and said that films like 1917, which is about two British soldiers during WWI, wouldn’t be eligible. Neither of these statements are true.

The Oscars is the most widely known and respected film awards ceremony, and these rules may encourage major studios to produce films that are more inclusive to women, people of colour, disabled, and LGBTQ+ people, on and off-screen. However, it only highlights Hollywood’s failures even more.

In the last few days, a year-old video of Viola Davis came to my attention, where she expressed her frustration with “inclusion riders,” which is a term in a filmmaker’s contract that requires a specific level of diversity in the cast and crew. Davis says, “I don’t want to be a part of any piece of paper that has to force people to see me,” explaining that if you’re not putting minorities in positions of power while also having an inclusion rider, then all of the minorities will continue to be sidelined.

“You’re saying ‘accept the bone,’” she continues. “Why is there a resistance to inclusion and diversity?”

Even though this video is a year old, Davis is absolutely right. Why can’t major studios support films that are authentic and good, that also happen to be inclusive? Why were they so resistant to the idea, that other organizations had to set new policies?

I believe that these new rules, although made with good intent, are only a quick fix that don’t solve the root issue of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism present in Hollywood. We might be getting more representation, sure, but there won’t be any real change until minorities have the chance to be in positions of power, such as presidents of major studios. It also reduces POC, the LGBTQ+ community and disabled people to a checklist, numbers on an inclusion standard form rather than creative, strong individuals who are wanted.

This brings us back to Davis’ question: why is there a resistance to inclusion and diversity?

The likely answer is that those in positions of power wouldn’t benefit from it. Presidents of large corporations only benefit from inclusion when it makes them money. Why do you think Disney made 17 Marvel films before they made Black Panther?

The Academy has no control over what movies are made, but they do have control over which movies are praised at their awards show, which ultimately garners that film more views and more money. Audiences have been fighting for representation, but Hollywood isn’t changing fast enough, so the Academy implemented rules to encourage that change.

This is only the first step, and this won’t magically make Hollywood care about women, POC, the LGBTQ+ community, nor disabled people. I believe they came from a good place, but it doesn’t feel good to be reduced to a checkmark on a list in some executive’s hands. Are minorities only in Hollywood to meet a quota, or do you really want us to be there?


Graphic  by @the.beta.lab

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