Last night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a huge shakeup for the eligibility for the Academy Award for Best Picture, which comes into full effect in 2024. Now, the prize gem of the annual awards ceremony will potentially require the casting of at least one actor of an underrepresented race or ethnicity as a lead or “significant supporting actor” in order to qualify for the award, with additional requirements for minority representation
Additionally, employing women, LGBTQ+, members of a racial or ethnic group, and people with cognitive or physical disabilities or who are deaf or hard of hearing might be required for at least 30% of actors in secondary and more minor roles; having a storyline centered on an underrepresented group; hiring creative leadership and department heads; maintaining least 30% crew composition; paid internships; and representation in marketing and distribution also are potential areas in order to be a Best Picture contender. Producers don’t have to meet all of the requirements of the new doctrine, just half, according to Deadline.
While these new requirements are well-intentioned, it is a double-edged sword that is both superfluous and does more harm than good. After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in 2015, the Academy has been more cognizant of recognizing diversity and inclusion in film. Since then, minority representation has dominated the Best Picture winners and since 2000, only five Best Picture winners did not have a minority character in a significant role. Three of those five films were based on a true story, with one of those films, Argo, facing backlash for whitewashing the Hispanic Tony Mendez with Ben Affleck.
But while winning Best Picture is good for business, most films are not “Academy Award material” and are not developing themselves to be, so this ruling only impacts a minority of the movies. Up to 10 films get nominated for Best Picture, 786 movies were released in 2019.
While the rule would have led to the replacement of Ben Affleck as the star in Argo with someone like Andy Garcia, it fails to address the more significant issue of whitewashing in Hollywood as most of the movies facing these controversies are ones that simply were never Oscar-worthy, especially not for Best Picture. This new rule wouldn’t have made Disney cast someone besides Jake Gyllenhall for Prince of Persia or cast an actual Native American to replace Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger. Instead, this rule is going to force writers of films based on a true story to hamhandedly write in a minority character for the sake of nomination rather than accuracy. Under this new ruling, 1917 would not have been nominated despite being directed by a man of Trinidadian and Portuguese descent and based on British soldiers in World War I, where of the nearly nine million who served, only 15,000 were Black.
I am all for diversity in Hollywood and providing true opportunities for minority candidates, and I agree that while we have come a long way since Mickey Rooney’s racist depiction of a Japanese man in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we still have a long way to go, but this just isn’t the answer and potentially shuns away qualified films. The issue is that the Academy simply doesn’t have the scope to change the culture in movie studios and they are doing what the can to address it externally.