Opinion: Inclusivity and Diversity at the Oscars

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Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

Since 1929, The Academy Awards have been primarily white. The first African-American actor to win in a competitive category was Hattie McDaniel in 1940 but only for a supporting role. An African-American director has yet to win an Oscar for Best Director. The first nomination of an African-American director was in 1991 – 62 years after the first Academy Awards. 

This lack of diversity has not gone unnoticed by movie-goers of the 21st century. Starting in 2015, the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has trended during awards season. This hashtag does not only apply to the lack of nominations for people of color but also the lack of women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently or has now established new standards of diversity and inclusion for the Best Picture category. While this does not change for movies nominated for the next three years, they will make the standards mandatory for all films nominated for best picture in 2024.

The new standards lay out four categories of diversity, of which two must be fulfilled to be considered for the Best Picture nomination. The four categories: On-Screen Representation, Themes and Narratives; Creative Leadership and Project Team; Industry Access and Opportunities; and Audience Development. 

The first category addresses the lack of non-white members of the cast and a lack of focus on marginalized narratives. There are three stipulations for this category, only one of them must be completed for the fulfillment of this category. The three stipulations are:

– There must be at least one lead actor from a marginalized or under-represented ethnic group.

– A minimum of 30 percent of minor roles are filled by women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, marginalized ethnicities or persons with cognitive or physical disabilities.

– The main theme of the movie must center around one of the aforementioned under-represented groups.

The second category tackles the lack of diversity in technical positions in the film industry. The three stipulations for this category are:

– A minimum of two of the following positions must be filled by a member of an under-represented group: Casting Director, Cinematographer, Composer, Costume Designer, Director, Editor, Hairstylist, Makeup Artist, Producer, Production Designer, Set Decorator, Sound, VFX Supervisor, Writer

– At least one of six members of the technical team, excluding Production Assistants, must be from an under-represented group of people.

– At least 30 percent of the film’s crew must be members of an under-represented group of people.

The third category focuses on the lack of opportunity for those in under-represented minorities in Hollywood. The two stipulations are: 

– The distribution or financing group of a film must have paid apprenticeships or internships for members of under-represented minorities.

– The film or financing company must offer training for under-skilled workers that belong to an under-represented group of people.

The final category tries to fight the lack of diversity in marketing and distribution. This category only has one stipulation: 

– The studio or film company must have multiple in-house executives on their marketing and distribution teams from under-represented minorities. 

These new rules for consideration were released by the Academy Sept. 8 and divided much of the film-loving community. While many people see these new standards as a step toward equality in the representation of minorities on and behind the camera others saw this as a publicity stunt. By making it so that the films must only complete two stipulations from different categories out of the nine that were put forward many believe that it will be too easy for films to create temporary programs or positions to fill their quota of diversity before the release the film to the public. 

I see these prerequisites for nomination as a partial step in the right direction for the future of cinema. If a film fulfills the bare minimum of these requirements for consideration when making the film nothing will have changed for a majority of the movies we see today. The stories will still be from the perspectives of the majority while the marginalized voices are relegated to the same indie films that they have been for decades. 

The film industry has to finally step out of the time that it has chosen to stay in since Hattie McDaniel won her Oscar in 1940. But that step can’t just be made by those who give out the awards, it has to be made by the film studios, the directors, the casting companies, the screenwriters – but most importantly – it has to be made by us. We have to support the movies that are about and are told by marginalized people. It is only then that the films will change to truly represent the diversity in America that we see every day.

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