Oscars Reveal Standards for Inclusion and Diversity for Best Picture Nominees

The Academy Awards are about to look a lot different in the Best Picture Oscars race. But the changes might not be as sweeping as they first appear.

Photo: AMPAS

Five years. That’s how long it’s been since the social media hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” was created. Coined by April Reign in response to all 20 of the slots available to actors and actresses going to white performers, the phrase encapsulated a basic question about our culture that has come to challenge the status quo of the entertainment industry and beyond: Who determines excellence and why do their choices look so homogenous?

The Oscars have fitfully begun addressing these issues over the last few years—particularly after in 2016 all 20 acting nominations were held by white thespians again—but now for the first time in Academy history, the Oscars are creating a metric by which to demand inclusion and diversity among Best Picture nominees, as well as a measurement by which the Academy is allowing itself to be judged.

Thus enters the representation and inclusion standards announced by the Academy late Tuesday night. With a series of new standards and categories that will apply exclusively to the Best Picture category, Best Picture nominees will need to meet two of the four standards detailed below. Beginning in 2024, intended Oscar contenders will need to adapt to these requirements in order to be eligible for Best Picture consideration… thus presumably effecting all the other categories beneath that top slot. While they seem sweeping at a glance, one could already speculate what previous Oscar contenders they would or would not effect.

The Best Picture Oscar Standards

Future Best Picture nominees will need to meet two of the following four standards, beginning in 2024. However, a film’s team will be expected to submit a confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form to accompany any consideration in 2022 or 2023.

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Standard A: On-Screen Representation, Themes and Narratives

A1. Lead or significant supporting actors At least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors is from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.

  • Asian
  • Hispanic/Latinx
  • Black/African American
  • Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native
  • Middle Eastern/North African
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • Other underrepresented race or ethnicity

A2. General ensemble cast At least 30% of all actors in secondary and more minor roles are from at least two of the following underrepresented groups:

  • Women
  • Racial or ethnic group
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

A3. Main storyline/subject matter The main storyline(s), theme or narrative of the film is centered on an underrepresented group(s).

  • Women
  • Racial or ethnic group
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

Standard B: Creative Leadership and Project Team

To achieve Standard B, the film must meet ONE of the criteria below:

B1. Creative leadership and department heads At least two of the following creative leadership positions and department heads — Casting Director, Cinematographer, Composer, Costume Designer, Director, Editor, Hairstylist, Makeup Artist, Producer, Production Designer, Set Decorator, Sound, VFX Supervisor, Writer — are from the following underrepresented groups:

  • Women
  • Racial or ethnic group
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

At least one of those positions must belong to the following underrepresented racial or ethnic group:

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  • Asian
  • Hispanic/Latinx
  • Black/African American
  • Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native
  • Middle Eastern/North African
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • Other underrepresented race or ethnicity

B2. Other key roles At least six other crew/team and technical positions (excluding Production Assistants) are from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. These positions include but are not limited to First AD, Gaffer, Script Supervisor, etc.

B3. Overall crew composition At least 30% of the film’s crew is from the following underrepresented groups:

  • Women
  • Racial or ethnic group
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

Standard C: Industry Access and Opportunities

To achieve Standard C, the film must meet BOTH criteria below:

C1. Paid apprenticeship and internship opportunities

The film’s distribution or financing company has paid apprenticeships or internships that are from the following underrepresented groups and satisfy the criteria below:

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  • Women
  • Racial or ethnic group
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

The major studios/distributors are required to have substantive, ongoing paid apprenticeships/internships inclusive of underrepresented groups (must also include racial or ethnic groups) in most of the following departments: production/development, physical production, post-production, music, VFX, acquisitions, business affairs, distribution, marketing and publicity.

The mini-major or independent studios/distributors must have a minimum of two apprentices/interns from the above underrepresented groups (at least one from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group) in at least one of the following departments: production/development, physical production, post-production, music, VFX, acquisitions, business affairs, distribution, marketing and publicity.

C2. Training opportunities and skills development (crew) The film’s production, distribution and/or financing company offers training and/or work opportunities for below-the-line skill development to people from the following underrepresented groups:

  • Women
  • Racial or ethnic group
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

Standard D: Audience Development

To achieve Standard D, the film must meet the criterion below:

D1. Representation in marketing, publicity, and distribution The studio and/or film company has multiple in-house senior executives from among the following underrepresented groups (must include individuals from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups) on their marketing, publicity, and/or distribution teams.

  • Women
  • Asian
  • Hispanic/Latinx
  • Black/African American
  • Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native
  • Middle Eastern/North African
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • Other underrepresented race or ethnicity
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

These new standards are historic, not only because of how they theoretically will change the way people are hired to make movies, but also how they mark a major industry creating standards that will just as easily map out unforeseen obstacles. Consider for instance that Hollywood producers might be incentivized to know the sexual orientation of their employees to better qualify for standards B3 or D1, which is in addition to tokenism also skirts legal issues about discrimination in the workplace.

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Further these standards will make it harder for independent filmmakers with limited means to compete for the Oscars’ top prize if their crew excludes paying interns or apprentices to qualify for Category C. Indeed, that category is something all studios will likely pursue going forward on any prestige project… which also raises questions about treating Black, disabled, or LGBTQ interns as interchangeable.

Even so this may create a new environment in Hollywood, and perhaps slowly among moviegoers, to rethink what inclusion and diversity in a workplace looks like. And for those worrying they’re too burdensome, keep in mind that many Best Picture contenders with white male dominated casts likely would’ve already qualified under these standards, especially if they knew diverse paid interns would dot some Is and cross some Ts come awards season in Standard C.

Joker enjoyed an Oscar winning score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, featured Shayna Markowtiz as a casting director and Emma Tillinger as a producer, and saw Zazie Beetz in a major supporting role; Green Book of course won Mahershala Ali an Oscar for his major role as Dr. Donald Shirley and also featured Kris Bowers as a composer, and Betsy Heimann as a costume designer. And with a slight diversification of department heads, 1917 and The Irishman, and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood would’ve all qualified, each featuring women in major positions of creativity behind-the-scenes.

So beyond potentially penalizing true independent cinema for qualifying for Best Picture at the end of the year, these standards are less game-changers for what kind of movies get nominated than they are incentives to create a more inclusive workforce, and by extension give folks a reason to pause why the industry suddenly appears so white… and not just at the Academy.