Oscars’ new diversity quota is surely a step by The Academy intended in the right direction. But in the long run, it could very well end up creating more dilemmas than it solves in the moment.
Diversity, inclusion and tolerance – the new mantra of ‘woke Hollywood.’ While it was long coming, movie business is finally responding to the global wave of protests against racism triggering demands for better representation. The latest effort in line with the paradigm shift has been made by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Considered the most prestigious award recognition for the movie-making community, the Oscars is in its 92nd year of existence. For a long time, the Academy has faced criticism for remaining regressive, even called in line with white supremacy. After five years of the #OscarsSoWhite movement, the Academy has come up with a ‘diversity quota’, which, but of course, is not being received kindly.
In order to be eligible for Oscars’ ‘Best Picture’ category, the movies now would have to take diversity into account and be more inclusive. A movie can meet the Oscars standards by showcasing underrepresented groups through a non-white major actor, or through 30 per cent of movies ensemble, or in the story itself. Further, the studios can meet these requirements off-screen by covering the demography in the studio’s leadership, marketing team and apprenticeship/internship programs. For any movie to be considered in the Oscars’Best Picture category, two out of four requirements need to be met. Read the full list of Academy’s requirements here.
Does Oscars’ New Diversity Quota Help?
What Academy is trying to do is to use Oscars’ ‘Best Picture’ bait to lure studios to hire more people of colour, from LGBTQ+ communities and disabled people. It is a valid effort consistent to changing racial ecosystem, audience preference and also the ‘woke culture’ of Hollywood. With a backlash ranging from all-white male nominations to lack of people of colour, to the under-represented LGBTQ+ community in most categories — Academy’s move was long due!
Watch: The Oscars’ horrible lack of diversity, explained in 2 minutes | Vox
While Oscars’ new rules aren’t a sea of change and need more concrete efforts than meeting a minimum of two requirements. It is certainly a right step in the direction. However, many artists and industry veterans have pointed out the loopholes in the system already. As David Sims from the Atlantic points out,
The academy has introduced a new standard of accountability in an industry where financial success—which can be boosted by a Best Picture win—is the only real yardstick by which everything is measured.
But further notes the moves as ‘latest concrete step toward what could be significant change.’
It’s NOT An Art Vs Inclusion Battle
That said the rules have also sparked a debate over artistic freedom. How? Well, consider this, a historical movie like 1917 which is about two British soldiers fighting World War I, might struggle to meet Academy’s standards whereas Netflix’s controversial Cuties with its racially diverse cast easily qualifies. There are so many ways to comply with new rules that there is hardly any chance to miss-out — studios can just punch in extra morally complicit scenes or actors. In a sense, it is also an insult for many talented actors who might now feel their casting depends on a quota, not merit or mettle.
Nonetheless, it’s to be pondered whether forcing artistes to adhere to a prescribed morally/politically correct code in name of diversity is justified, if so, how much? While, the Academy letting lose studios to get their way with this one is a discussion for another time. Thanks to Zack Snyder’s Justice League we all know what happens when studio executives meddle too much in the movie-making process. However, the bottom line remains, a checklist based quota system is a terrible idea for the art of filmmaking.
While Academy’s new code is certainly a right step (woke or not) but on a deeper level, it is creating another divide. It raises doubt on artists’ capabilities, how long before someone questions their skills by branding them a byproduct of the quota system. In a long run, the quota will further dampen the work of the people of underrepresented groups. (We all know the world is a bad place and Hollywood is meaner).
And certainly, it’s not about the skill, art or merit it’s about inclusion so why not a mandate to produce more diverse movies? Grab the corporate structure running the production studios by the neck and the rest can follow. Late actor Chadwick Boseman’s career can be a testimony to this idea. His body of work including Da 5 Blood, 42, Marshall among others told the most important Black men stories. Nonetheless, Black Panther’s 3 Oscars win and the Best Picture nomination in 2019 is proof enough that you don’t need a diversity quota or checklist, just the intent!