Five years after #OscarsSoWhite lit a fire under Hollywood, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced what might be its most visible diversity initiative yet. Beginning with the 96th Oscars in 2024, films vying for a best picture nomination will have to meet certain inclusion standards to qualify.
The on- and off-camera standards announced Tuesday night are split into four categories, of which each film must meet at least two: on-screen representation, themes and narratives; creative leadership and project team; industry access and opportunities; and audience development. Each category has its own criteria.
In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Post, producer DeVon Franklin, an academy governor who led the inclusion standards task force alongside Paramount Pictures CEO Jim Gianopulos, said this is a way “to make sure the representation the industry is dependent on is recognized for their achievements.”
“The movie business is not exclusive to this idea, which is, equal opportunity isn’t distributed equally,” Franklin said. “When you look across tech, sports, in so many other industries, everyone’s grappling with an intent to be inclusive. But maybe there are some best practices that need to be reevaluated for that intent to be realized. These standards are really about maximizing that intent.”
The standards will be an eligibility requirement for the 96th Oscars onward. For the ceremonies held in 2022 and 2023, films must only submit a confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form to be considered. Implementing the standards in 2024 allows studios and productions time to “get up to speed,” Franklin said, noting that the pandemic has already delayed many industry workings. Plus, he continued, the academy needs time to create an infrastructure to properly collect and analyze the films’ data.
This is all part of the ongoing Academy Aperture 2025 initiative, which the academy launched in June to “amend — and continue to examine — our rules and procedures to ensure that all voices are heard and celebrated,” per academy CEO Dawn Hudson. It announced at the time that the best picture category would be set at 10 nominees beginning with the now-delayed 2021 ceremony, and made mention of inclusion standards to come. The initiative has also instituted term limits and annual unconscious bias training for the academy’s board of governors, as well as programs to help correct inequity within the academy and across the industry.
Franklin and Gianopulos’s task force worked with a template inspired by similar standards from the British Film Institute. Franklin added that they also consulted with academy governors and membership, other members of the industry and unions: “This was not done in a vacuum,” he said.
The standards’ on-screen component calls for films to star at least one lead or significant supporting actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group (e.g. Asian, Hispanic, Black, Indigenous, Native American, Middle Eastern, North African, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander). There are a couple other options: a film can also meet the on-screen standard if at least 30% of its secondary cast members are from at least two underrepresented groups (e.g. the aforementioned racial and ethnic categories, women, LGBTQ people, actors with cognitive or physical disabilities) or if the film’s central narrative concerns one of those groups.
There are also a few ways to fulfill the leadership standard. For one, at least two department heads (e.g. casting directors, cinematographers, composers, costume designers, directors, editors, hairstylists, makeup artists, producers, production designers, set decorators, sound designers, special effects supervisors, writers) must be from an underrepresented group, with at least one of those positions belonging to someone from a racial or ethnic minority background. Otherwise, at least six other crew members — excluding production assistants — must be from a racial or ethnic minority background. For the final option, at least 30% of the film’s crew must count themselves among an underrepresented group.
The other standards don’t offer alternatives. Film companies can meet the third with paid apprenticeships or internships and below-the-line training opportunities or skills development for people from underrepresented groups, and the fourth by diversifying their marketing, publicity and distribution teams.
“The intent of these standards is not to inhibit creativity. It is to promote creativity and to give filmmakers tools to make great films that then ultimately can be recognized,” Franklin said. “We wanted to make sure there were enough standards that were meaningful, that then could allow for change but, at the same time, allow for content from filmmakers to be made.”
To many, the inclusion-standard news recalls the work of #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign, whose hashtag campaign drew attention to the lack of diversity among acting nominees in 2015 onward. The public outcry eventually snowballed into a larger conversation about representation and lack of opportunity in Hollywood.
“This is progress for marginalized communities, championed by marginalized communities,” Reign tweeted about the news Tuesday, adding that “the real change still has to start on the page, and with the studios who greenlight those films. The goal is to ensure more inclusive films get made that are told by/with/for traditionally underrepresented communities; the awards come much later.”
Franklin Leonard, founder of the Black List, an index of unproduced screenplays, interpreted the best picture standards as a dual statement: a mild one “encouraging producers and distributors to engage with content that’s not made by and about solely white straight cis men,” as well as a stronger one about corporations’ responsibility to at least do “the absolute barest minimum” to ensure diversity at lower ranks.
“Reasonable people can debate whether that’s the Academy’s role (ultimately it’s up to them and they decided) and whether those standards are adequate given their role in the existing situation,” Leonard wrote on Twitter, “but at its core, nothing here, in practice or theory, should give too much pause.”