The New Oscars Guidelines


via theglobalpanorama

Ethan Ramchandani, Editor

Recently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduced a new set of criteria determining eligibility for the Best Picture category. These standards intend to promote inclusivity on the silver screen, and it comes as no surprise that they have divided the industry. However, what are these rules that have so many decrying the Oscars?

Beginning with the 96th Oscars, in 2024, films must satisfy one of 4 sets of rules: A, B, C, and D. The lengthy lists of criteria and explanations can be found on the Oscars’ official website; what follows are just paraphrases. Standard A requires film creators to consider their cast’s ethnic makeup and the agency characters from underrepresented groups have in the movie. Standard B concerns the crew: underrepresented persons must either fill two or more executive positions or compose at least a third of the general crew. Standards C and D, while important, influence less of the final product, but provide opportunities to minorities. Most criticisms target standards A and B.

Opponents to these changes worry that the Academy is overstepping its bounds and using the prospect of a Best Picture award to control filmmakers’ decisions. More reluctant proponents of these changes worry that they will encourage tokenism (the practice of doing something only to avoid criticism) to meet a quota instead of involving authentic representation. There are some common misconceptions, however. Some worry that several past nominees like 1917 and The Irishman would not qualify under these guidelines, but there is a way actually a way for them to stay eligible without changing anything on-screen. This can be done under standards C and D.

Standards C and D, which are not seen on screen, involve films meeting standards for paid apprenticeship, internship opportunities, and work opportunities in the film’s marketing, distribution, and publicity teams for underrepresented groups. These will be enforced through random spot-checking and interviewing executives working on the films. This idea is largely modeled after a concept the British Film Institute introduced and carried out in 2019. Unfortunately, a report from Clive Nwonka, a fellow in film studies at the London School of Economics, showed that the standards did little to aid the representation of ethnic minorities. Notably, ethnic representation on screen was out-performing representation behind the scenes. More films were falling under standards A and B than C and D.

Whether or not these standards work in favor or against racial equality, tokenism is rampant in film. An example of this idea is Finn in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Many argue he had very little agency in the film, and his plot significance only diminished as the movies went on. For many this exemplifies the problem in film as a whole: executives will write in a character of color just to have them exist in the background of the plot, while white actors take the reins of the story. Though Star Wars is just one example, it remains a problem that needs to be addressed.

There are still a few years left before these standards take effect. Time will tell how they impact racial equity in film. Hopefully, directors will take this opportunity to further authentic representation and showcase their creativity while doing so.