After years of #OscarsSoWhite trending basically every year during Oscar season since 2015, the Academy finally got sick of eating sh-t for the studios and have instituted a set of diversity rules for future Best Picture nominees. The rules will go into effect in 2024, for the 96th Academy Awards, though in 2022 and 2023 studios will have to submit a confidential form detailing how they line up with the new inclusion rules. The Academy’s new inclusion standards are modeled on similar rules used by the British Film Institute to determine eligibility in some BAFTA categories, and these new Academy rules were developed in consultation with the Producers’ Guild (producers collect Best Picture trophies). To qualify for Best Picture eligibility in 2024, films must include two out of four of the following categories:
A – On-screen representation/themes/narrative
B – Creative leadership and project team
C – Paid internships and apprenticeships
D – Audience development
Let’s break it down by category.
Category A is causing a lot of angst because it seems to dictate what stories will get told and who gets to tell them, but this category is mostly for show. I HOPE it encourages studios and production companies to take chances on different kinds of stories about different kinds of experiences, but it is very easy to meet the two-out-of-four standard without ever touching category A, and I imagine this is what most companies will do, especially among the studios, which have the cash to throw around for apprenticeship and management programs to help them clear other categories. Independent producers might struggle more with this, as they don’t have as much cash lying around, but I bet the Academy ends up starting a fund meant to help smaller companies support some of these hiring-based qualifications. The confidential reports of 2022 and 2023 sound like surveys to me, meant to assess how everyone is progressing and where potential trouble spots might be. Helping independent producers fund apprenticeships seems inevitable.
Category B is meant to promote inclusion among department heads and crew. It has three sub-categories:
B-1 – Two department heads from an underrepresented group and at least one position from an underrepresented racial/BIPOC background
B-2 – At least six people from the crew and/or technical positions are from an underrepresented racial/BIPOC background
B-3 – At least 30% of the crew is from an underrepresented group
B-1 is a little confusing, but I’m reading it as an attempt to increase intersectionality among department heads. Casting, costumes, hair/makeup, and marketing/publicity are all traditional “safe zones” where (mostly) white women have succeeded in the sausage-fest film industry, but the secondary clause in B-1 ensures one of the two qualifying positions must also be racially diverse. For example, The Irishman is safe because it is edited by Thelma Schoonmaker and lensed by Rodrigo Prieto, which meets the women and BIPOC group qualifications. There are a spate of recent films including Joker, Ford v Ferrari, Marriage Story, and 1917 that I’m not sure pass muster, but just by hiring one (1) non-white person on a crew of hundreds, they would. That’s how small the change can be, just hire ONE person who isn’t white to run a department. This is not a whole-sale guarantee that intersectionality immediately increases in the creative ranks, but it is a step in that direction.
Category C is about creating diverse entry-level opportunities in the industry (something Ryan Reynolds just addressed in a meaningful and easy to copy way). It’s basically a two-tiered professional development program with entry-level apprenticeships and skills development for anyone who demonstrates promise in their department. This essentially formalizes how many crew members move up the ranks anyway, as they are nurtured and trained by senior crew members and department heads. There may have to be some institutional support for smaller companies with less resources to pursue programs like this, but by and large, this is the easiest category to satisfy.
Category D is about the makeup of the offices at the studio or production company making the film. Like category B, most companies already meet these criteria, and those that don’t most likely have programs in place to fix their sh-t. Like category C, this is a relatively easy fix with a nominal cost—just institute a management training program aimed at inclusivity, if you haven’t already. These programs exist and are very easy to copy from companies already seeing results from their in-house efforts at management diversity (like Netflix).
Between categories B, C, and D—especially C and D—it will be easy for movies to meet at least two of these criteria and qualify for Best Picture. Anyone worried about quota hiring or script mandates and the like can take a chill pill, because it is entirely possible to qualify without ever worrying about the creative content of your production. Focus on the entry-level hiring and professional development stuff, and you’re good to go. But the effect is kind of a boomerang, because even if you don’t f-ck with category A, creating more space for diversity within the executive and creative ranks of the film industry inevitably will lead to more diverse storytelling. This relates to John Boyega’s recent statements about Star Wars, which stemmed from a lack of inclusion among the creative ranks at Disney-Lucasfilm. Still, I bet when 2024 rolls around we won’t see an appreciable change in the types of films being nominated, but everyone will be bragging about their super inclusive offices and intern programs.