The Academy, under the new Board of Governors, announced what they hope will be sweeping changes to address problems of inclusion. Here are the changes coming soon to the Oscars:
The Academy will encourage equitable hiring practices and representation on and off screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the film community. To ensure more diverse representation, and in collaboration with the Producers Guild of America (PGA), the Academy will create a task force of industry leaders, appointed by David Rubin and that will include governor and A2020 Committee chair DeVon Franklin, to develop and implement new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility by July 31, 2020. Eligibility for films in consideration for the 93rd Academy Awards® (2020) will not be impacted.
Beginning with the 94th Academy Awards (2021), the Best Picture category will be set at 10 nominees, rather than a fluctuating number of nominations from year to year. The Academy will also implement a quarterly viewing process through the Academy Screening Room, the streaming site for Academy members, also starting with the 94th Academy Awards. By making it possible for members to view films released year-round, the Academy will broaden each film’s exposure, level the playing field, and ensure all eligible films can be seen by voting members.
Until we learn more details, I don’t know how plans to “implement new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility by July 31, 2020” is going to go over with all the Academy members. Are we talking quotas? Will they try to ensure at least one film by a female or a black director is included? But one thing I do know is that simply expanding the Best Picture nominees to ten will do much in the way of broadening the Academy’s reach across a wider range of genres and themes — that more room for LGBTQ fims, sci-fi, horror — more opportunity for animated films and documentaries, etc., to be considered among the best of the best.
The reason for this is that for most of its history, the Academy has had five Best Picture nominees and five Best Director nominees. Only in its early days the Oscars often embraced more than five Best Picture contenders – fluctuating through an era when as many as a dozen nominees might be named, and then reined in to an even ten, and then in 1943 — when Hollywood production itself was at a low ebb — they shrank the slate down to five where it stayed until 2009, when it expanded back to an even ten.
That meant ten nomination slots on the ballot and ten nominees for Best Picture. But many Academy members complained that they didn’t feel as though they had seen as many as ten deserving films in a given year and wanted the ballot to go back to five. So an uneasy compromise was reached in which voters were given five nomination slots and the accountants devised a formula to arrive at a random number of Best Picture nominees each year — usually 8 or 9. But this half-measure only seemed to nullify the intention to be more inclusive, largely because all it did was ensure that the same types of films the Academy likes were chosen in a larger number, as opposed to doing what it originally was meant to do – expand the slate beyond your typical Academy movie (male driven character/morality drama).
If the exclusion of the very popular film The Dark Knight led to their expanding the slate in the first place, that dream was never realized since the type films in the race didn’t really change that much. There were just more of them.
Meanwhile, the Producers Guild continued to have ten nomination slots and ten nominees and their nominees reflected a greater sense of freedom than the Academy. A great example of this was 2014 when Gone Girl, Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher were all up for Best Picture. All three of those got into the PGA but none to the Oscar race, probably because they were too dark to get past the arbitrary percentage threshold that the accountants had set. To accumulate enough votes to be nominated with only five slots on the ballot, dark doesn’t play all that well, or didn’t used to.
As further evidence that 10 nominees offers more opportunities for more filmmakers, animated films were nominated in 2009 (Up) and 2010 (Toy Story 3) but never again once they shrank it back down to five. The other big shift was films about women, by women. In 2009, you had Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, which won Best Picture. You also had Lone Scherfig’s An Education nominated. That’s two films by women in the top ten.
The following year, 2010, you had the same thing, with Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids are All Right and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone.
But since then, at most, we’ve only had one film directed by a woman:
2011 – 0
2012 – 1 (Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty)
2013 – 0
2014 – (Ava DuVernay’s Selma)
2015 – 0
2016 – 0
2017 – (Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird)
2018 – 0
2019 – (Greta Gerwig’s Little Women)
The reason that an even ten works well for inclusivity with both women and people of color, and divergent genres, is that each Academy voter can add films they might not choose as their own personal favorites. You can’t force people to like or identify with something they don’t like or identify with but if you give them a chance to pick their favorites, plus other films they deem worthy, they are more likely to step outside their comfort zone so that it is not so much a reflection of who THEY ARE, but rather a more fair assessment of the year in film overall.
There will no doubt be pushback on some of these changes, I figure. There is an ongoing debate about ostensible standards of quality versus the need for inclusivity. If Academy members don’t think a movie is good enough they’re not going to nominate it. When the question some will pose is, “Why would you want it to be nominated if it’s not good enough,” the obvious answer is “Good enough in whose eyes?” Because when people demand change, they’re often simply asking for change that respects their point of view. Whether or not that point of view is shared by the majority is irrelevant. They’re asking for representation in movies that matter to them, and they deserve it. Filmmakers who have been overlooked for decades might reasonably ask, “Why would I invest my time in an organization that habitually ignores me, and only reflects one point of view or one specific taste.”
Change will be hard and slow, the opposite of what Twitter wants. But the Academy is clearly trying to move the needle faster than it has moved in the past.
Here are the rest of their changes they plan to enact, per their press release:
The Academy will establish an Office of Representation, Inclusion and Equity to oversee the Aperture 2025 initiative and work with the Board of Governors, Academy staff and experts to ensure the implementation of best practices and accountability throughout the organization. The office will be led by Academy COO Christine Simmons, in partnership with Lorenza Muñoz, Managing Director, Member Relations and Awards, who will continue to oversee external-facing membership and awards initiatives and global outreach.
All Academy, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy Film Archive and Academy Museum staff will have access to newly created Employee Resource Groups (ERG) to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and beyond.
Aperture 2025 is an ongoing initiative with multiple phases and programs to holistically address institutionalized inequity within the organization and the industry. The Academy will ensure inclusion in all areas by diversifying its suppliers, investment opportunities and collections. The organization’s efforts have already made a significant impact on the following initiatives and programs:
Academy Grants Program – The Academy’s FilmCraft and FilmWatch grants were established to identify and empower future filmmakers, cultivate new and diverse talent, promote motion pictures as an art form, and provide a platform or underrepresented artists. Earlier this year, the Academy donated an additional $2 million in funds to 96 organizations that support filmmakers and reach audiences from underserved communities.
Academy Gold – Academy Gold is an industry talent development, diversity and inclusion initiative, with a focus on underrepresented communities, to provide individuals access and resources to achieving their career pathways in filmmaking.
Action: The Academy Women’s Initiative – Action: The Academy Women’s Initiative includes member-focused global events designed to connect and empower women in the filmmaking community and enable them to share their stories and celebrate inclusion. The initiative also includes the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, which funds an annual grant for female filmmakers beginning their careers.
Academy International Inclusion Initiative – The Academy International Inclusion Initiative aims to bring together a global community of artists by establishing long-term relationships with international film festivals and cultural exchange programs with established and emerging filmmaking communities.
Student Academy Awards – The Student Academy Awards, established in 1972, provide a platform for emerging global talent by creating opportunities within the industry to showcase their work.
Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting – The Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting is an international screenwriting competition established to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters. Winners are chosen through an extensive, professional script-reading process that also includes Academy-trained readers, with many from underrepresented communities.