The Oscars' New Diversity Rules Won't Change Who Wins Best Picture

They'll probably do more to lock out indie filmmakers than to advance real inclusion.


Hollywood has always straddled the line between authenticity and artifice, both onscreen and off. In the old-school studio system, it wasn't unusual for an actor's "real" identity to be as much a work of fiction as the movies he starred in. Backstories were fabricated; facts were massaged; private lives were obscured. Gay stars pretended to be heterosexual playboys, recognizably ethnic surnames were traded for anglicized ones, and mixed-race actors who could pass as white often took pains to do so.

In the next few years, the Hollywood game-playing surrounding identity may well take a new turn, with actors scrambling to classify themselves outside the white, cis, and heterosexual norms that their predecessors hewed to. This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) handed down a brand new set of diversity and inclusion requirements, which films must start meeting in 2022 (with full rollout in 2024) to be eligible for Best Picture consideration. Those who want a shot at the Oscar will need to make sure their production meets those standards in at least two of the following four categories: "Onscreen Representation, Themes and Narratives," "Creative Leadership and Project Team," "Industry Access and Opportunities," and "Audience Development."

Although this announcement came at a moment when diversity commitments are particularly trendy, anyone who's followed the Oscars and its attendant controversies over the past few years will know that it's been brewing for much longer. It was 2015 when an all-white slate of acting nominees first prompted a viral backlash against the Academy and its yearly awards ceremony, a P.R. nightmare that Hollywood has been clumsily trying to overcome ever since. Prior to now, the biggest initiative was a 2018 mass recruitment of new members, which nudged the Academy's makeup ever so slightly in a more diverse direction while making no real impact on its overall hegemony of white males. Unlike the Academy's other efforts, this latest move carries a whiff of control, not just over Oscars consideration, but over the art itself.

To check that first box—"Onscreen Representation, Themes and Narratives"—a movie needs one of the following: a leading or major supporting actor from "an underrepresented racial or ethnic group," a supporting cast made up of at least 30 percent underrepresented categories (including women, people of color, sexual minorities, or disabled people), or a storyline that focuses on one of the aforementioned groups.

On its own, the conflation of diversity with quality raises interesting questions; under these standards, the massive Fast & Furious franchise would be Oscar eligible, but Martin Scorcese's entire library would struggle to make the cut. But in practice, it's not Hollywood's major players who will be scrambling under the new regulations. The higher your budget—and the bigger your back office—the easier it will be to meet these criteria. If they wanted to, big studios could completely ignore the "Representation" and "Creative Leadership" categories that dictate which stories are told by who, and continue to make prestige pictures by and about white men, knowing that they could simply check "Audience Development" and "Industry Access" boxes by filling marketing positions and internship programs with a diverse staff. Instead, the impact will be felt most by indie directors, who work on shoestring budgets, with limited resources and no guarantee of being picked up by a distributor with adequately diverse executive leadership. For them, it becomes a choice: sacrifice their shot at the industry's highest honor (with all the career-boosting benefits an Oscar nomination entails), or conform. 

Some may shrug at that, or even see it as a net positive in a world where too many movies already exist about straight white dudes. On the other hand, the list of movies that would be shut out from Oscar contention under the "Representation" standard is pretty, well, diverse. The Hurt Locker; Boyhood; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Birdman; The Lighthouse; 1917; Gladiator; Gone Girl: All would fail to make the cut.

That's assuming the AMPAS rules actually go into effect, instead of imploding in a maelstrom of grasping identitarianism, opportunistic comings-out, internecine fights about which groups count as "underrepresented," and uncomfortable questions about how the Academy intends to enforce its own standards. (As the essayist Wesley Yang noted on Twitter, the current literature suggests that sets would undergo "spot checks" for the presence of marginalized cast and crew, an idea that would be amusing if it weren't so incredibly creepy.) This month has even introduced one riveting example of how incentivizing people to lay claim to marginalized identities can have unexpected and toxic results: Jessica Krug, a professor at George Washington University, confessed that she had been passing as a black woman from the Bronx when in fact she was born to Jewish middle-class parents in Kansas. Krug claimed that she was motivated by mental illness and childhood trauma, but it's also clear that the charade had its perks; not only did she have access career opportunities and resources reserved for people of color, but her assumed identity granted her status and power in an academic culture where any claim of oppression holds enormous sway.

It's not that 2024 will usher in a role-reversed reboot of the bad old days, when white-passing actress Merle Oberon pretended her own grandmother was a servant in her household to hide the truth about her heritage from racist Hollywood; it's more that the Academy doesn't seem to have really thought through the implications of its own guidelines. Imagine the arguments over whether Jews count as underrepresented, and if not, why. Imagine actors whipping out their 23andMe results to prove their nonwhite status. Imagine the bewildered Academy trying to nominate a Best Actor and Best Actress from a sea of young celebs who've all adopted nonbinary identities and they/them pronouns in order to help check the LGBT box for their films' Best Picture nod. 

All this would be happening against a backdrop of little or no change to the actual slate of Best Picture nominees, which will continue as always to be dominated by prestige pictures from major studios with the occasional, diversity-compliant indie darling (such as Moonlight) in the mix. The new standards will do nothing to resolve the fierce and ongoing debates about representation and racism in Hollywood; movies like Green Book or The Help, which activists hated, would be considered diversity success stories under the new rules. If this is the Academy's best play for relevance and moral authority in a rapidly shifting entertainment landscape, it's no wonder that nobody bothers to watch the Oscars anymore.

NEXT: NIMBYs Stop Game of Thrones Author George R.R. Martin From Building the Castle of his Dreams

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  1. >>anyone who's followed the Oscars and its attendant controversies over the past few years ...

    needs professional help.

      1. Agreed.

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    5. Who gives a shit about the Oscars? The awards are just another chance for Hollywood to blather about its "stars", most of whom are no more stars than kids doing a Christmas play.

  2. I watched my high school theater group in the 70s put on a play based on Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. I thought at the time that no way would American society become so idiotic and stoop to that level.

    I was way wrong.

    Steyn had a great comment last night. That our highest grossing movies are all based on comic books from the 1960s. We've reached a level where creating new things are impossible or subject to committees like the one above.

    1. I loved when he said a movie about The New Afrikan Black Panther Party wouldn't qualify because all the members are white. ????

    2. Films based on comic books from the 60’s are far more entertaining than most ‘creative’ ideas Hollywood has these days.

      Bring on Avengers 5!

      1. The 80s and 90s still had good stuff.

        Speaking of which, there are rumors of a Demolition Man 2.
        Really hope that doesn't happen

    3. Some of the prevalence of "comic book" movies is that the people making them (especially the MCU) started making well written movies with a strong narrative which were adapted from comics as opposed to the kind of camp/niche productions that the 1966 "Batman" series/movie established a paradigm for; they've also been getting highly talented actors into these movies which was something that the Richard Donner "Superman" movies of the early 1980s had (and the Tim Burton "Batman" movies of the late 80s/early 90s), but those early franchises degenerated fairly quickly when the directors changed in at least one of those two categories.

      There is an additional factor that the major studios have become very "risk averse" with their major productions (possibly in part because of the size of the budgets for some of these movies), and sequels/franchises/adaptations are seen as having a "built in" audience. Christopher Nolan is possibly the only director in the business right now that can get a major studio to buy in and produce any original material for a major release, we'll see what happens after the results "Tenet" has had (probably not the movie's fault since it's running in a world where so many are afraid to go to a theater at all and they're closed in some of the biggest cities anyway). Even Nolan (who reportedly didn't ever want to do sequels) was put in charge of a comic-book franchise, possibly in connection with being allowed to also do his own projects, and he had to make a name for himself with low-budget films outside the studio system before reaching his current status.

  3. Hollywood is going to tackle racism. Again. We're all saved. Thank you AMPAS! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  4. Will Hollywood now address the blatant racism in the NFL, where one race is vastly overrepresented? And one Gender?

    1. And how many players are differently abled? Shame!

    2. I favor transforming the NFL into a league where teams of female fitness models of all ethnicities compete in outfits like these....


      1. I miss the Lingere Football League.

        Those chicks were (more or less) easy on the eyes, but (more or less) pretty talented and absolutely brutal in their play

        1. Roller Derby. The original in the '70s. Now those were baddass babes. Basically WWF on wheels with boobies. At least that's what my pre-teen memory serves.

  5. I'm certainly looking forward to a bunch of Trump-voting rednecks getting incensed over how the Academy Awards conducts its business. They can form a club with the gay men who've been doing it for years.

    1. I’ve never given a shit how those vapid progtarded idiots conduct their business any more than I care about the sort of valid progtarded things you do.

      I just like to mock them. The same way we all mock you here.

      1. Oh you mock the Oscars, how original, do you also shoot fish in a barrel?

        Somewhere there's a The Shape of Water joke in here. Anyone else think that was the shittiest movie ever?

        1. Yes, Tony, mocking you IS like shooting fish in a barrel.

          Oh wait, I did not mean to imply there's a glory hole in the barrel.

          1. I recently read an article about how the glory hole is making a comeback thanks to covid distancing needs.

            1. You are, as always, full of shit.

        2. It was bad.

          Damn fish-fuckers

  6. Back in 2010 I did a check of acting Oscar winners and determined that in the decade of proceeding 5 Black Actors had won one of the acting categories, that was 30% including Denzel Washington (5 nominations), Halle Berry, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Fox (2 nominations). Morgan Freeman was nominated twice. Several other Black Actors were nominated including Ruby Dee, Will Smith (twice), Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Queen Latifah, Michael Clarke Duncan, Eddie Murphy, Taraji P. Henson. If my count is correct that is a total 21.

    In this decade so far there have been 19 acting nominations and 4 directing nominations.

    1. Storm/Catwoman/Jinx won an Oscar for being a good actress. Let that sink in.

  7. Only a racist cares about a person's race.
    Only a sexist cares about a person's sex, real or imagined.

  8. Oscar is a Statuette Of Color and deserves more respect than this.

    REPARATIONS for Oscars throughout the land!

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  10. Remake every Oscar "best movie" winner with the perfect PC cast...and see if anyone cares.

  11. All future movies will have the entire cast masked so who will care?

  12. I can't wait until someone at the Academy realizes that, under these rules, "Blazing Saddles" would qualify, while most PC films even of TODAY would not.

    1. Everyone should get an Oscar, so no one feels bad.

  13. One advantage the Indie productions might have at a more diverse production crew is that being outside the studio system can mean being free of the "closed shop" union contracts that restrict the labor pool for virtually any job on a working set. One of the primary functions of a lot of the unions around the entertainment business is to restrict the potential labor pool, and the cost of joining most of those unions can be equal to someone's first three months of income (assuming they're actually even working full time for that long).

    Since the studios can't generally hire workers that aren't already members, the ability of "new blood" to get into their labor pool is limited, and people from a truly economically disadvantaged background aren't generally going to be able to devote their first several months of work just to paying for the cost of becoming eligible for the job (unlike training/education requirements, union initiation fees don't offer scholarships to help people pay their way through).

  14. Equal results for all tribes..oh no Hollywood that means a great many jewish sit com writers will now have to step aside for some iris or italian script writers...given how woke hollywood is I wonder how that will go down? Or maybe there are only certain groups which should be given extra "points"..sorry Catholics....

    The one thing Trump has done is make all these media and entertainment "elites" totally irrelevant. No one cares about hollywood anymore..

  15. Are there still people who cares about the oscars?

  16. But we'll get "First Loser" awards; any racer knows what that's worth.

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  18. I just want to know if Klingons count as oppressed.

    1. Klingons do not whine.

    2. An interesting question, since they generally tend to be played by black actors, or white actors with copious darkening makeup.

  19. Mostly, this shows the paucity of quotas and check-offs. Quality, it seems, does not follow a check list. Equally important, some aspects of great pictures are their willingness to take a different perspective, break a few rules, go outside the conventions. That's the kind of diversity needed, not some rote check-off.
    I understand the perceived need and might even countenance some suggestions about casting and crewing, but this will largely create a slough of vapid movies with baked-in "diversity."

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  22. I have wondered for a half century why more scripts are not based on the works that have proven themselves, e.g., Victor Hugo, Hermann Hesse. These writers wrote so much more than is exploited. Hugo's two best works have been ignored, e.g., "The Man Who Laughs" and "Ninety Three".
    Last, there's Ayn Rand's works, 3 of her four books are films, but the simplest and therefore easiest to adapt, "Anthem" is only in graphic novel form. Why?

    1. I've also wondered about the lack of a film adaptation of Anthem, although at this point I could see studios passing on it simply because there are so many young adult collectivist dystopia stories.

  23. Wait. You mean there were pictures made this year that were good enough to be considered "best"?

  24. Some homosexuals have long condemned (at least some) bisexuals as hetero pretending to be gay. I believe this is true as we see a number of Hollywood actresses who claim to be bisexual but only date males. Or the newest one is pansexual (not quite sure how that is different than bisexual). Want to be headlined in the next big movie, just have your agent call a press conference during casting and "come out". It doesn't hurt your image and actually will probably help it.
    We can create a new Oscars category and call it the "Chuck and Larry" award.

  25. No one is going to pay to see these diversity movies.
    Get woke go broke is indeed true.

    1. Disney is rumored to have figured this out, at least their entertainment section. The new head of Disney Films has supposedly stated that Disney is ending it's "wokeness" partially due to how disappointing The Last Jedi and Black Panther and Captain Marvel were (albeit the last two on that list were decent in my opinion and the Last Jedi wasn't terrible, but I also think the prequels were okay, my biggest complaint was they should have made the Zahn trilogy as the sequels, not doing that was a slap in the face to Star Wars fans,but then again the prequels and their depiction of the Clone Wars also conflicted with the Zahn trilogy).

      1. Also,NFL opening night viewership was way down from last year. If the season follows the same path as NBA, NHL and MLB, it will only continue to go down.

        1. And no NCAA football this year.

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