The Oscar's New Inclusion Rules — What Will Change?
"[C]an you imagine telling Picasso what had to be in his ... paintings." — Kirstie Alley clearly feels excluded by the Oscar's new inclusion rules that come into effect in 2024.
I’ve read criticisms by Christian Conservatives who say that Christians and Conservatives are being marginalized by the liberal left and ostracized from Hollywood. "Where are we in these quotas," they scream from their self-oppressed sofas. Am I being reductive in saying this is white fragility? Most of these criticisms are from white people claiming forced diversity even after an entrenched history of forced uniformity.
However, let's dig deeper to see if these inclusion rules are really all that inclusive. First, we’ll look at the rules themselves. Then we’ll look at how, or if, these rules would truly impact some of the recent award-winning films that have come to pass.
So what are the rules?
In short, to be nominated for Best Picture, movies must meet any 2 of the below 4 standards. The other categories can remain ‘free’ from these ‘oppressive’ rules. I’m being sarcastic.
Standard 1: On-Screen Representation
- Lead actor or significant supporting actor from an ethnic minority group.
- At least 30 percent of smaller roles are played by women, LGBTQ people, disabled people or ethnic minorities.
- The main storyline is centered on an under-represented group.
My Review: Already the rules are a little safe for me. Even if they are a start, why the 30 percent cap on smaller roles and crew, why not just make it 50 percent to make it equal? Does the main storyline that’s centered around an under-represented group mean it reflects the truth and real voice of that very underrepresented group? I would say no.
Standard 2: Creative Leadership
- At least two senior creative posts, such as casting director, make-up artist, or producer, are from an under-represented group, including women.
- At least six smaller roles in the crew are filled by ethnic minorities.
- At least 30 percent of the film's total crew is from an under-represented group.
My Review: Good: I like the two senior creative post requirements. Bad: I feel that there isn't enough focus on the diversity of screenwriters, as surely they are the origin of the story. My gut feeling is that it will make for a slight creative change, but not enough.
Standard 3: Industry Access
This standard can only be fulfilled if both of these are valid.
- Studios and distributors must have paid interns or apprentices who are women or come from minority groups.
- Training opportunities must be offered to under-represented groups in production, distribution, and financing.
My Review: Although I really appreciate the focus on behind-the-scenes in these last two categories, the producers that want to skip the rules could easily focus on the last two standards and avoid real inclusivity. This is not to invalidate the behind-the-scenes side of things and this improvement on diverse employment, however a clear hierarchy in favor of the over-represented still exists after these rules are enforced.
Standard 4: Audience Development
- Multiple senior executives in publicity, marketing, and distribution are women or minority groups.
My Review: Where is the focus on socio-economics? Are we still getting movies produced by the elite with no focus on low-income backgrounds? The good news is there will be more women and minority groups represented.
What would this mean for 2021’s nominations if the rules were applied now?
I took a long hard look at the 2021 Best Picture nominees and examined which ones would pass the Oscar's new inclusions rules with flying colors and which ones would just scrape through. Since I couldn’t get enough evidence to back up Standards 3 and 4, as I couldn’t question and quantify its crew members' gender or sexuality, or whether they able-bodied or not. So, I've focused on a rating for each movie based on Standards 1 and 2.
The Father - 6/10
Both lead actors are white cisgendered straight people, so at first I thought The Father would only pass Standard 1, as the film only has 30% of its smaller roles being played by women (this includes one extra!) and 10% of its cast from an ethnic minority. The Father does pass Standard 2, however, when it comes to representing women. They have a stronger presence in the crew across creative teams like art direction, set design, and costumes. However, I only found one member who was from an unrepresented racial or ethnic group, who was on the makeup team.
Judas and The Black Messiah - 7/10
In terms of Standard 1, it passes with many of its leading and supporting actors being Black. However, it would just scrape by in Standard 2, as only two of its ten producers are women. Thankfully its set design, casting, and editing departments are all led by women, so that helps them pass. A fair percentage of those crews are made up of underrepresented racial groups as well. Still, Judas, on initial research boasts a heteronormative male cast.
Mank - 3/10
Mank would pass Standard 1 only by a tiny amount. Just 35% of its smaller roles are played by women and that's including very small parts. It’s another white male-dominated cast and crew, with the set design and makeup departments serving as its only saving grace in terms of gender diversity. In terms of racial diversity, however, you're looking for a needle in a haystack. Despite all of this, it would still be sufficient to pass under the new rules.
Minari - 9/10
Minari has many Korean-American women in its cast, and its storyline is all about an ‘underrepresented group’ -- a Korean-American family living on a farm. With a deeper look at its creative team (e.g., producers, editors, and art direction), Minari passes all of the inclusion standards for gender and racial diversity.
Sound Of Metal : 9/10
Sound of Metal gets an A+ for Standard 1. Riz Ahmed, the lead actor, will be the first Muslim actor nominated for an Oscar. Thirty percent of the film's smaller roles are filled by women, with a good percentage being from those with minority backgrounds. Its storyline is centered around a man going deaf, a disability that is massively underrepresented in the dramatic arts.
Promising Young Woman - 7/10
A cast dominated by women, yay! Lots of female producers, yay! Also, its main story is about a woman being sexually assaulted, which definitely counts as a storyline from an underrepresented group. Cinematography and music are led by men. Laverne Cox, the trans actress, is also one of few Black actors in the supporting cast. So again in terms of inclusivity, it's a start in terms of women and LGBTQ people, but it lacks in the inclusivity of ethnic minorities.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 - 4/10
Another one that passes the inclusion rules with minimum inclusivity. Yes, 30% of its smaller cast are women and from underrepresented groups, however, only one supporting actor fits Standard 1 rules. In terms of Standard 2, looking at cast and crew, the only racial diversity I found was in hair and makeup.
Nomadland - 6/10
Nomadland at first glance would fail Standard A as its lead actor is not from an ethnic minority, and there are no significant supporting actors that are. However, 30% of its smaller roles are filled by women. Chloe Zhao, the film's director, is a Chinese-American from Beijing, so that would be enough for Nomadland to pass Standard 1. It would also pass Standard 2 with flying colors, as multiple executive producers are women, and its art director is Elizabeth Godar. Sadly, aside from Chloe Zhao, the film lacks in the representation of ethnic minorities.
So this year's nominations fit the inclusivity mold, and in some cases there's an improvement with more women involved. 2021 is still lacking though as its made up of very heterosexual cis-gendered male cast and crew. Annnnd we're still seeing an overall lack of representation of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. So in terms of what will change, 2021 doesn't paint the most hopeful picture!
What older films would still pass when they shouldn’t?
There are plenty of holes to be found. One of the more glaring ones is that Green Book, for example, would still get a nomination in 2024—even with its whitewash/white savior narrative, because it has an ‘interracial storyline’ and a Black lead actor. Is it inclusive if the story is still suffocated by white writers, a white director, and predominantly white producers with Octavia Spencer being its saving grace?
With all that being said, it does seem like this is the start of something... that should have started a long time ago. Comments like those I just made about Green Book have also come up around other films, including The Help, Driving Miss Daisy, and Crash. These too would still win, even with their whitewash controversy. Maybe the biggest controversy is that Green Book beat Black Panther and Roma in 2018, which didn’t equate to talent or diversity, and that could still happen even with these new rules. Movies like The Irishman, which was made up of almost all white men, would pass with a female editor. Another example of how big studios could easily ‘cheat’ the rules.
Films that have been nominated or have won, make for an extremely white retrospective. It's a whole bunch of white people telling underrepresented stories through their eyes. Maybe an artist has the right to tell any story they please, as Kirstie Alley alludes to? But we have come to terms with the fact that this is often not the case. There is immense merit to when the artist reflects the story—e.g., Moonlight, told by Black and queer people, yes with cisgendered actors, but their voice still comes alive. On the other hand, if you look at the very white 2016 Oscar awards, particularly at The Danish Girl, you’ll find a trans storyline told by cisgender people. This would still be included, even under the new inclusion rules, but in my opinion The Danish Girl could have benefited from both a trans voice and actress.
What past movie winners would not be nominated in 2024 with the new rules?
Braveheart is the answer, but even then, I didn’t go back to interview every crew member, hair, and makeup artist about their sexuality, ethnicity, gender identity, or whether they consider themselves able-bodied or not, so it could still pass the ‘test.’ This is where the weaknesses of these new rules begins to surface, showing that they perhaps should have gone further.
So what does this all mean for the future of film and awards season?
As Tupac raps in 'Changes,' I see no (real) changes. There are still plenty of disconnects here that just prompt more questions. Does one LGBTQ actor, most probably white, automatically make the whole production inclusive for LGBTQ people? Does one woman on set amount to intersectionality? Does one differently abled person on a creative project serve as the voice and reason for every differently abled person? Of course not, we are not a monolithic human race. So some say this is a start, even me.
I'm not saying that a single movie must showcase the complete complexities of all who are underrepresented. I’m also not saying that white cis-gendered artists can’t tell their stories. But I am asking, who's truth is on display? Which stories are being told time and time again, and which stories are emerging from the sidelines? I'm ready for those who've held the mic for so many years to take a step back, pass the mic, and let others tell their stories.
I think these rules don’t go far enough, and they're a little diluted. Yes, it’s the beginning of change... but this leads me to my final critique: Why are we waiting for 2024? After all, there’s no time like the present.