Do The Oscars’ New Inclusion Standards Undermine Talent?

By Paula Gallagher
·  4 min read
Do The Oscars’ New Inclusion Standards Undermine Talent

On Tuesday, September 8, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility in the Best Picture category. The new standards will go into effect in 2024.

The Academy established the new standards to “encourage equitable representation on and off-screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience.”

Academy President David Rubin and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson commented on these changes, saying, “The aperture must widen to reflect our diverse global population in both the creation of motion pictures and in the audiences who connect with them. The Academy is committed to playing a vital role in helping make this a reality. We believe these inclusion standards will be a catalyst for long-lasting, essential change in our industry.”

All other categories will maintain their current standards.

The New Representation and Inclusion Standards

For the 96th Oscars in 2024, a film must meet two of the four new standards to be deemed eligible to compete for Best Picture. Here’s a breakdown of the new criteria:

Standard A: On-screen Representation, Themes, and Narratives

The film must meet one of the following criteria: 

  1. At least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors is from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group (Asian, Hispanic, Black, Native American, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, etc.)

  2. At least 30% of all actors in secondary/minor roles are from at least two of the following underrepresented groups: women, racial or ethnic group, LGBTQ+, and people with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  3. The main storyline or theme is centered on an underrepresented group(s).

Standard B: Creative Leadership and Project Team

A minimum number of leadership and crew positions must be filled by people from underrepresented groups:

  1. At least two of the creative leadership positions and department heads (like Cinematographer, Composer, Costume Designer, Director, Hairstylist, etc.)

  2. At least six other crew and technical positions (like gaffer or script supervisor)

  3. At least 30% of the film’s crew is from an underrepresented group.

Standard C: Industry Access and Opportunities

The film’s distribution or financing company must provide paid apprenticeships or internships for underrepresented groups in multiple departments. And the film’s production, distribution, and/or financing company must offer training and/or work opportunities for below-the-line skill development to people from underrepresented groups.

Standard D: Audience Development

The studio and/or film company must have multiple in-house senior executives from among the underrepresented groups on their marketing, publicity, and/or distribution teams.

These changes are just part of the “Academy Aperture 2025” initiative. The Academy began an inclusion campaign after it was criticized in 2015 when “all 20 acting nominations went to white actors, inspiring activist April Reign to create the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.” 

How Are These Standards Going To Play Out?

The Academy is right to raise the bar in the sense that change often does need to start with those in authority who have a strong motivator (like a big award) to set the standard for better behavior. Motivated people will change their behavior and a culture change will trickle down. 

Aren’t awards based on competence?

But these standards are double-edged. Yes, they will motivate companies to hire or feature more underrepresented people, but these people are being hired or featured for their gender, race, orientation, or disability — not because of their talent, skill, or competence.

Besides, aren’t awards based on competence? That’s why it’s called the “Best” Picture. Not the “Most Politically Correct” Picture. Not the “Most Correct Participation” Picture. 

Stephen King highlighted this point back in January. 

King’s point seems to be that art plays by different rules. Film should be judged on its quality and not on the percentage of minority people on screen or in the crew.

Additionally, instead of hiring the best person for the job, companies will be looking at their diversity quotas and hiring based on that. So the POC woman who is hired won’t know if she was hired because she’s actually good at what she does or if it’s just because she was the POC woman who applied. Being chosen doesn’t mean much when the chooser doesn’t have free choice. 

Being chosen doesn’t mean much when the chooser doesn’t have free choice. 

Furthermore, the consequences of hiring incompetent people mean that the company and other employees have to compensate for them — whether it’s time and money spent training the new hires or working extra to make up for their lack of knowledge or skill. (I guess that’s why Standard C includes training?)

Closing Thoughts

The Academy might think it's opening doors with its emphasis on inclusivity, but it might actually be narrowing the freedom of art and limiting the rise of competent people.

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