The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sets new diversity standards

September 9, 2020 • 10:30 am

According to both the New York Times and Variety, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the annual Oscars, has set new diversity standards for the Best Picture award. The standards, though they don’t apply to other categories like Best Actor, could apply to other awards like Best Animated Feature and Best International Feature, and, according to Variety (which has the better of the two articles), these categories will be addressed later.

The action is a response to the outcry about the lack of diversity in awards as well as the composition of the Academy, which led to the well known #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2015. In response to the lack of diversity (racial diversity, though the adjective is rarely mentioned), the Academy did make and fulfill a promise to double the number of women and minority members between 2016 and 2020. This new initiative is meant to address diversity in films, both in front of and behind the camera.

The changes come in two steps. First, for the 2022 and 2023 Oscar nominations, Best Film applications will have to submit a confidential form to the Academy about “Inclusion Standards” if the film is to be considered. There’s no word on what this form will ask.

Then, beginning in 2024, any Best Picture nomination has to meet at least two out of four sets of diversity standards, one for the actors in the film; another for diversity of “creative leadership and department heads” (casting director, makeup artists, cinematographer, composer, etc.), “other key roles”, and “overall crew composition (e.g., 30% of the latter must be from underrepresented groups); the third for “industry access and opportunities” (fellowships and internships for minorities as well as special training opportunities for those from underrepresented groups”; and the fourth set for “audience development” (marketing, publicity, and distribution must involve individuals from “underrepresented racial or ethnic groups”).

Remember, the Best Picture nominees have to fulfill at least two of the four requirements. And some areas, like actors, can be satisfied by meeting a minimal number of standards within the class. For example, here are the standards, as given by Variety, for “On-Screen Representation, Themes, and Narratives”. To meet this one of the four sets of standards, the film must meet one of the following three criteria:

To achieve Standard A, the film must meet ONE of the following criteria:

A1. Lead or significant supporting actors

At least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors is from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.

• Asian
• Hispanic/Latinx
• Black/African American
• Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native
• Middle Eastern/North African
• Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
• Other underrepresented race or ethnicity

A2. General ensemble cast

At least 30% of all actors in secondary and more minor roles are from at least two of the following underrepresented groups:

• Women
• Racial or ethnic group
• People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

A3. Main storyline/subject matter

The main storyline(s), theme or narrative of the film is centered on an underrepresented group(s).

• Women
• Racial or ethnic group
• People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

The standards for the other three categories can be seen in the Variety article. These standards were developed by a committee appointed by the Academy.

How will these be enforced? According to the New York Times article, “the standards will be enforced via spots checks of sets and through dialogue between the academy and a movie’s filmmakers and distributors.” For the first category—films—that seems impractical, because how do you know a film will be applying for a Best Picture award when it’s being made? And after it’s made, there are no more sets, though I suppose the ethnicity of actors will be available.

When I first read this, I assume that all four areas would have to meet the standards, and I was distressed—as were a few readers who sent links to me—that pictures would have to fit a given mold of diversity. For surely there are some movies that simply can’t meet these standards, like those portraying times or situations when there were no minorities around. Those movies wouldn’t get a chance to be nominated, no matter how good they were. But then I read the standards and realized that you don’t have to fulfill the criteria for actors, but can do so by meeting two out of the other three categories. And I don’t have any problems with those standards. Then I thought, “Well, just leave out category A and ask that movies meet two out of the three remaining standards,” but then then narrows the possibilities for minority actors; so I think it should stay.

Thus, despite the superficial appearance of a draconian and authoritarian change in movies in the name of diversity, the initiative looks pretty reasonable to me. But other people should weigh in.

60 thoughts on “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sets new diversity standards

  1. *Snort* To fulfill Category A, just have one of your lead or important characters be a woman. Easy enough. If the story is set at a womanless place/time, bring in some Asian or Native American actors. In fact, I’d suggest flooding all the other categories with Asians. That will fulfill the obligations while p!ssing off the Baizuo crowd royally. Heheheheh.

    1. You’d think that, but to this day only something like half of films pass the Bechdel test (i.e. have two women characters, with names and speaking roles, who talk to each other about something other than a man). Hollywood still has a long way to go.


      Personally, I think probably the biggest single step they can take for equality is to get more women and minorities as voting members of the Academy itself. As of 2019, it was still only 31% women and 16% non-white.


      Like PCC, I worry about about historical set pieces. But I also worry about small film companies. Laika would be my example; they have only about 350 employees. That’s getting down to low enough numbers that it may be unreasonable to expect even unbiased or progressive hiring to result in representative sampling.

    2. Clarification needed: could the lead actor be a trans woman who hasn’t had any medical treatment yet playing a male role?

      For example, if Daniel Craig announced he will be identified as a woman in future, would the latest James Bond film qualify?

  2. Ok, I apologize in advance for this, but I have no choice but to give the following tip to Spike Lee (hope he’s reading this website): make a loose, kinda-sorta remake of Citizen Kane starring Denzel Washington.

    1. I understand the reaction. But the movies in line for these awards are far more than pure art. Besides being a huge business, what is prominent here is that they make a very large impression on peoples’ sense of inclusion and representation. I am sure art will still find a way.

    2. I’m not sure if you are being sarcastic or not, but apart from criterion A, the other criteria are pretty easy to meet. Criterion B1, for example:

      At least two of the following creative leadership positions and department heads — Casting Director, Cinematographer, Composer, Costume Designer, Director, Editor, Hairstylist, Makeup Artist, Producer, Production Designer, Set Decorator, Sound, VFX Supervisor, Writer — are from the following underrepresented groups:

      • Women
      • Racial or ethnic group
      • LGBTQ+
      • People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

      At least one of those positions must belong to the following underrepresented racial or ethnic group:

      • Asian
      • Hispanic/Latinx
      • Black/African American
      • Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native
      • Middle Eastern/North African
      • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
      • Other underrepresented race or ethnicity

      If your makeup artist is a black person and your hair stylist is a woman, you have got that one down.

    1. Kane did alright — scoring nine Academy Award nominations — even if the backlash from the Hearst empire kept it from opening in several theaters (including Radio City Music Hall, the ne plus ultra for opening nights in those days), thereby suppressing its box-office receipts.

      Used to be, a film had time to find an audience, often by word of mouth. Nowadays, if a movie doesn’t have a blockbuster opening weekend, it disappears from theaters (remember those things, from the pre-pandemic days?) becoming fodder for video screens.

        1. Yeah, it got short-changed, no doubt about it. But all the controversy put it out there in the great-movie mental landscape. And it’s gotten nothing if not its due in succeeding years.

          And, FWIW, “Best Screenplay” isn’t some measly minor award; it’s considered one of the Big Five.

      1. Very often the Oscars are won by films that really are a passing fancy & are quickly forgotten, while films that missed out are seen as much greater works. It seems to me that the film business should reflect society in the round. You can have a historical film for example, set in any period, & make sure you employ female & ethnic minority people in crew & other staff. Also getting a greater variety of stories & having a broader audience.

  3. The next step, surely, will be retroactive cancelling of all the Best Picture awards of the past which failed to meet the approved Diversity standards. For example,
    Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet” (Best Picture, 1948) lacked a single lead or significant actor who was
    • Asian
    • Hispanic/Latinx
    • Black/African American
    • Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native
    • Middle Eastern/North African
    • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander

    For that matter, Olivier’s “Henry V”, which was nominated but not selected as Best Pic in 1946, suffered the same deficiencies. Perhaps, in view of Olivier’s repeated failures to meet Anti-Racism standards, the various awards and theaters named after him will soon be renamed or cancelled.

    1. If you were complaining about the negative stereotyping of respectively the Danes & French I’d say you have a point! 😁

      But they were British films not American films. Seriouly though, I cannot think you seriously do nit believe that people only make films to enter them for an Academy. Award? Or that getting more black people, women etc employed in film making is not a good thing? These are not prohibitive laws, they would not be required if film making had become more representative of societies. Anyway, if film makers want to make films that do not comply, as long as they get distribution &are good they will find an audience.

      I’d be mire concerned by the rise of streaming & the Covid19 crisis in cinemas & films.

  4. These awards were meaningless to begin with. Last year’s Best Picture winner Parasite was the first winner that deserved it.

    1. Really? Even of the last decade, Argo, 12 Years A Slave, Birdman, Spotlight, Moonlight (as well as Parasite obviously) I thought were all deserving. I even didn’t mind Green Book.

      Not sure how The King’s Speech beat out The Social Network, and I’ll never understand what anyone saw in The Artist aside from the performance of the dog.

      1. I think most of those movies are overrated, with the possible exception of Birdman-which was more interesting than it was enjoyable.

  5. I can think of a number of pictures that couldn’t be made with these criteria, especially historical pictures. Criteria like these do not enhance the artistic merit of a picture, just the ideological conformity of the studios. Socialist realism, here we come!

    1. As Jerry points out, any movie can theoretically meet the workforce criteria, even if the on-film folk are all monoculture (i.e. due to story). And since you don’t have to fulfill all of them, that can make you award-viable.

      Just as the government allocating dollars to small, veteran, and minority-owned business caused a proliferation in such corporations, I expect these criteria might cause a bunch of new business models to crop up. Some legitimate attempts to create diversity, others…less so. The “creative leadership and department heads” and “industry access and opportunities” groups seem particularly exploitable…exactly how many executive producers and high school interns can you add into a film, anyway?

  6. The problem with the Oscars and diversity is a generational thing, in that the Academy itself is still made up of a bunch of “industry” old-timers, like Ruby Romaine, the retired studio make-up artist played by Tracey Ullman, many of whom haven’t even seen the movies they vote on:

  7. Most of the finest movies made to date wouldn’t have a prayer of being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar under these rules.

    One more reason for not taking the Academy Awards seriously, at least on artistic grounds.

  8. I really hope Hollywood doesn’t go the way of British cinema-cramming in minorities inappropriately. I recently watched a British movie from 2019 called The Aeronauts. It’s about balloonists in 1862. “Based on historical events.” Only they replaced the one of the real life men with a fictional woman and filled the elite institutions of 1862 England with black and Indian/Pakistani people.

    1. That is precisely the way cinema is going on both sides of the Atlantic. However, your mention of the rewriting of “historical events” in The Aeronauts suggests the next step: revising old films, by means of
      digital wizardry, so as to bring them into compliance with Diversity standards. Think of the possibilities! “Henry V” with a native American as the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Pacific Islander as the Bishop of Ely, and a woman as Corporal Nym.

      1. So, in Shakespeare’s day he would’ve selected a boy or man to play the women’s roles. That’s how it was originally done. The author himself, and the audience, was just fine with that (though maybe not would-be actresses). But the idea of a woman playing one of the men’s roles in a Shakespeare play, that idea you find ridiculous?

        I get the idea that if you’re doing historical realism, race- and sex- switching may not be a viable option. But for most fictional stories, I’d say just relax and get over it; in most (but not all) cases the sex or race of the character is superfluous anyway. Guildenstern can be a Native American woman for all I care; it won’t affect my enjoyment of Hamlet one bit. Though making them 80 or 12 when they’re supposed to be H’s school/boyhood companion might!

        1. Shakespeare did not select boys or men to play the women’s roles—he had no choice in the matter. Women were banned from acting on commercial stages by the pecksniffs.

          “I get the idea that if you’re doing historical realism.” Dramatic film tends to be a more realistic medium than the stage (fantasy film, with its CGI and superheroes is an entirely different matter). If you’re making a period film and taking pains to get the settings right, then color-blind casting can look anachronistic and even send the wrong message, by suggesting the past in certain countries was more multicultural than it really was.

          That said, there are cases when it can work, as in the recent film of David Copperfield by Armando Iannucci.

    2. This is new? You realize that Charlton Heston wasn’t really a Mexican in Touch of Evil or John Wayne a Mongolian in Genghis Khan (let alone Mickey Rooney Japanese in Breakfast at Tiffany’s)? And all those Indians mowed down in old westerns? Not Native Americans.

      Watching a movie involves a willing suspension of disbelief. (You realize that the characters on screen can’t see those great big letters that appear next to their heads in the opening credits or hear non-diagetic music scores, right?)

      Does it really ruin a balloon movie for you to see women and black folk on the screen?

      1. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and with the exception of Touch of Evil, the movies you asked about were awful in part due to their casting, and your reply was really condescending.

        1. Aside from the casting of Mickey Rooney, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is hardly “awful.” It’s never been a particular favorite of mine, but it was nominated for five Academy Awards and has been selected for preservation by the Library of Congress and the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

          I apologize for the condescension, but I find carping and moaning about women and minorities being cast in period pieces to be puerile.

            1. This may be a little off-thread, but I find
              John Wayne’s casting as Genghis Khan to be one of the high points in cinema comedy. It is exceeded only by “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep”, an ineffable Japanese monster film in which the monster is a giant prawn. [“Ebi” is, in fact, the Japanese word for prawn, as any devotee of Asian food knows.]

              Come to think of it, when will our Diversity standards get around the species that ought to be represented in monster flics?

            2. Yeah, that was precisely my point, Pablo. You really zeroed in on that one.

              You ain’t makin’ this non-condescension thing any easier. But on the off chance that was a legit question rather than a misbegotten effort to score a rhetorical point, my answer is this: Charlton Heston could have played a Mexican without browning up; there are plenty of Mexicans as light as he.

              And as for Mickey Rooney, the less said the better. Let this suffice: he wasn’t playing a Japanese character; he was mocking Japanese people.

              Were the black balloonists you so disliked seeing inappropriately crammed into your movie mocking whitey?

    3. Yes but this is theatre – albeit movie theatre. It is not attempting an accurate portrayal of the world as it was, merely a theatrical version. No one forces you to see it. The film that was successful in the UK was Armando Ianucci’s David Copperfield which did a similar thing. I would have a problem if it was an attempt to portray historical events that say involved a British submarine –
      Oh yes, Hollywood does this all the time. It is all pretty lies & entertainment.

      As I said in another comment, just employ more ethnic minorities in being the scenes rolls such as directors/ cinematographers etc in those cases. Then you can have the historical nonsense that pretends to be history.

      1. As an admirer of technology, I must say that I am offended by the absence of modern technological advances in historical films.
        There is not a single MRI in “Coma”, “Patch Adams”, or the Dr. Kildare films! And films about Elizabethan times show the Spanish Armada without including a single submarine. These depictions of the past without any of our modern devices make me feel quite unsafe.

        1. You’re going to make some kid a great ’embarrasing Grandpa’ some day, complaining about theater issues nobody will give a hoot about in 10 years.

          This really isn’t hard; fiction doesn’t have to be accurate in every detail to be good. Because it’s fiction. And because viewers have brains.

    1. Link worked for me! Very funny… but sad 🙁
      Plus they are all very good looking people as well as intelligent. Bet they’d be great company….

      I always find it annoying that TV generally always takes pretty people. If there is ever a biographical film the character, however plain in real life, is always played by a good looking actor.

  9. Being (sometimes) a bit of an old curmudgeon, I have a rooted dislike for any public event that involves luvvies giving prizes to each other. The Oscars, the Emmys, the Brit Awards, the Booker Prize…; I don’t bother to watch any of them, and I do my best not to even read about them.

    Apologies. But, bah humbug!

  10. I fear the wrong focus will be on bean counting the ‘types’ involved in the film. Surely the best motivation should be the creation of a film that is stirring , enlightening or whatever…everything else just seems superfluous. It just should not matter what your race gender or other current flavour of identity politics is. I am so over all this. I wish sometimes they did things like 90% involved in the film were kind, empathetic, generous, funny or other more important humanity strengths.

  11. Having worked a career in Hollywood, I don’t see this having any effect because of the way it’s worded.

    Studios already market to targeted groups for practically every film; latinos, african-americans, women, each audience demographic usually has a portion of the marketing budget committed to maximize turnout. Now throw in an internship, i.e. unpaid labor, and the film makers are set.

    Films are product and as their cost to produce goes up, it makes sense to maximize the audience for each one. So the diversity requirements are already taken care of by market demand.

  12. I feel what makes it contentious is Category A, because it ties the idea of merit to the ideal of diversity. But seeing as it doesn’t have to meet A, but only 2 of 3 of the hiring policies, I’d imagine that nearly all film studios will meet the criteria by changing their hiring policies rather than choosing scripts / casting on those lines.

    In fact, I can imagine in the mid 2020s that we get a slew of articles complaining how the requirements didn’t go far enough because Hollywood still isn’t telling the stories of minorities.

    The main question I have is how this may impact films outside America. Hollywood is quite insular, so a non-American film getting a Best Picture nomination is rare at the best of times. But if a great film comes from France or Italy, will it be excluded if those film industries haven’t similarly aligned themselves to the American standard? Will the lack of minority representation impact a movie full of Japanese or Chinese actors when they aren’t minorities in the film’s country of origin?

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