Film and culture experts are celebrating the new guidelines for filmmakers that will dictate who is eligible for the Oscar best picture gong, heralding the ‘watershed’ moment as a well-overdue change.
The guidelines set out percentage requirements for the inclusion of some of film’s most underrepresented and neglected voices.
From 2024, to qualify for the best picture category films will have to meet stringent requirements around the race, ethnicity, ability, sexuality and gender identity of the cast, characters and storylines.
Australian screen industry commentators have praised the change, saying the overhaul goes a long way to upset the ingrained “conservatism” the Academy Awards have fallen prey to in the past.
Most industry insiders welcome the change, but there are still those who fall back on the age-old argument that diversity quotas have no place in merit-based critiques.
Actor Kirstie Alley (Look Who’s Talking), said the guidelines were “dictatorial” and affected Hollywood’s freedom to create art.
I’ve been in the motion picture Academy for 40 years. The Academy celebrates freedom of UNBRIDLED artistry expressed through movies. The new RULES to qualify for “best picture” are dictatorial .. anti-artist..Hollywood you’re swinging so far left you’re bumping into your own ass
— Kirstie Alley (@kirstiealley) September 9, 2020
Janak Rogers, journalist and associate lecturer at RMIT’s school of media and communication, strongly rejects this notion.
“People who throw their arms up and go, ‘I thought we were judging art on the quality of art’, I think that displays a pretty limited understanding of the function of art in society,” Mr Rogers said.
This is going, ‘Is it good enough to have a bunch of white films, with white actors, made for white people celebrated by white judges?’ And the Oscars has realised, clearly no.
“This is why the Oscars is taking this seriously, they’ve set the standard for what we celebrate … they know they’re writing themselves into irrelevance if they don’t take diversity seriously.
“What we will hopefully have is fewer straight white people making the decisions, and being cultural gatekeepers, and fewer straight white people – their love stories, their action stories – dominating what entertains the world.
“Once we start to have films that are more representative, that do take diversity inclusion more seriously, we’ll have new ways of thinking of what the best picture is.
“And that can only be celebrated, because it’ll be a better, more representative, deeper and, ultimately, more just form of expression.”
A welcome change …
Hollywood and the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have long been at the centre of debates about whitewashing and ‘straightwashing’.
Ien Ang, professor of cultural studies at Western Sydney University, said making space for diverse communities would challenge the film industry’s ingrained conservatism.
“An industry is very difficult to change. There have been … traditions and people in power for a long time,” Dr Ang told The New Daily.
“In the Academy, once you’re on it you can stay on it until you die – there are filmmakers on the board who are mostly white and male, who have been there for decades.
“That means that the conservatism is baked into the system.
“It’s much harder for people of colour to get into the industry and make it.”
Women, people of colour, people with disabilities and people from the LGBTQIA+ community will now need to be included on set as actors and staff to be considered for the prestigious award.
Under the guidelines, the lead or significant supporting actors will need to be from an underrepresented ethnic cohort.
This includes actors of Asian, Indigenous, Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern or Islander decent.
At least 30 per cent of the general cast will need to include actors who are women, racially or ethnically diverse, from the LGBTQIA+ community and people with cognitive or physical disabilities.
Finally, the main storyline must be centred upon any of the aforementioned, underrepresented categories.
But until 2024, we’ll just watch Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite on repeat.