As a teenager living in Europe, I would stay up all night to watch the Oscars ceremony live, charged with excitement, clutching my Oscar figurine from Madame Tussauds. I had school in the morning, but sleep was less important than finding out whether my favorite films or actors would receive the greatest cinematic honor. I was not alone, of course. Millions the world over tune in each year to see this symbol of excellence bestowed on works of art and the people who bring them to life.1 For ninety-three years, the Oscars have been celebrating outstanding achievement in filmmaking—but that’s about to change.
The Academy plans to introduce new “representation and inclusion requirements” stipulating that judges must evaluate films not solely on the basis of merit, but also on their inclusion of and support for “underrepresented groups.” In 2022 and 2023, only those who submit an “Academy Inclusion Standards form” will be eligible for the highest honor—the Best Picture award. Then, beginning in 2024, films must meet at least two of the following four standards to be eligible:
- “At least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors” or “30% of all actors in secondary and more minor roles” are from “underrepresented groups”; or “the main storyline(s), theme or narrative of the film is centered on an underrepresented group(s).”
- “At least two . . . creative leadership positions and department heads” or “six other crew/team and technical positions” or “30% of the film’s crew is from . . . underrepresented groups.”
- “The film’s distribution or financing company has paid apprenticeships or internships” and “offers training and/or work opportunities for below-the-line skill development to people from . . . underrepresented groups.”
- “The studio and/or film company has multiple in-house senior executives from . . . underrepresented groups on their marketing, publicity, and/or distribution teams.”2
Of course, such considerations have nothing to do with a film’s artistic or technical value. Then why did the Academy choose them? According to Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson, they did it “to reflect our diverse global population in both the creation of motion pictures and in the audiences who connect with them.” But that is absurd. Rational people do not connect with films because members of their race, sex, or the like appear on screen. They connect with the characters, story, and themes of a film—elements that appeal to viewers, regardless of race, gender, and so forth. As for filmmakers, all these new standards will do is incentivize them to choose the individuals they work with not for their character and ability, but for such irrelevant characteristics as race and gender. . . .
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1. The 2020 Oscars were watched by 23.6 million viewers. This is the lowest rating in the past ten years; the highest was 43.7 million in 2014. See Matt Webb Mitovich, “Ratings: Oscars Hit All-Time Low, Down Sharply from First Host-Less Outing,” February 10 2020, https://tvline.com/2020/02/10/tv-ratings-oscars-2020-parasite-best-picture/.
2. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, “Academy Establishes Representation and Inclusion Standards for Oscars Eligibility,” September 8, 2020, https://www.oscars.org/news/academy-establishes-representation-and-inclusion-standards-oscarsr-eligibility.
3. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, “Oscar Statuette,” https://www.oscars.org/oscars/statuette.
4. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, “Regulations Concerning the Promotion of Films Eligible for the 93rd Academy Awards®,” April 2020, p. 2, https://www.oscars.org/sites/oscars/files/93aa_regulations.pdf.