The Oscars: Still So White?
On September 8, 2020, the careers of many underrepresented groups in the film industry were drastically changed after the Academy announced its enforcement of the new Oscar inclusion rules. The Academy revealed that the criteria for films eligible for “Best Picture” nominations will be edited to encourage the diversity of the stories portrayed on film, the actors seen on screen, and the individuals working behind the scenes. This initiative aims to include those who identify with underrepresented racial or identity groups. The change in the regulations for these film nominations is Hollywood’s latest attempt to diversify the industry, as it is still a place where predominantly white men thrive.
The rules require that movies competing for the “Best Picture” title have a lead or supporting lead role and main plot point centered around a subject in either underrepresented group. The Oscar inclusion rules will be completely implemented in 2024; however, the guidelines will also be applied to movies released in 2023.
Many speculate that the new inclusion rules were a reaction to the recurring hashtag “Oscars So White,” which originated in 2015 as a result of the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity in nominees. This lack of representation was considered a byproduct of the uniform Academy, which was composed of 25 percent women and eight percent of members who identified as people of color. The hashtag was used to draw attention to the lack of diversity in the stories, actors and directors nominated by the Academy for awards. Many of the films nominated centered around the experiences of white males, making it almost undeniable that the bias of the over 75 percent white male Academy had an influence.
The stories that were recognized by the Academy did not reflect the experiences of diverse groups, but rather stories that catered to an individual experience. In 2018, the Academy incorporated more women and BIPOC onto the committee, raising the percentage of women to 32 percent and the percentage of people of color to 16 percent.
Despite the introduction of the inclusivity rules and the progress that will ultimately be made in the film industry, there is still a lot of pushback and controversy about the entire concept. While many see the implementation of the inclusion rules as a necessary part of improving the awards ceremony, others see it as a political stance and an exaggerated response to the concerns of diversity and inclusion within the industry at large. While backlash was expected, Academy officials believe that this is a vital step towards equity and inclusion in the film industry and the performing arts as a whole.
“I think that a lot of the time Hollywood will just be like ‘Here, take it. We filled our racially inclusive quota this year.’ It feels as if they are throwing you a bone but in a really condescending way. It is very much performative, very reactive. People say that there is not enough diversity in movies and Hollywood says, ‘Here is a Black Little Mermaid and a vaguely hispanic Disney princess’ Sure it’s better [having the rules in place] but the intention isn’t right and the execution isn’t right either,” said Gianna Leon (23).
Packer’s own Ali Boag, Upper School Theater Teacher and Chair of the Arts Department said, “The change in the rules is long overdue. I think if people take this seriously and if they realize that this is a way of involving people who have traditionally been neglected, by default or deliberately, it doesn’t really matter because now we have to go out of our way to make sure that these voices are heard and these people are encouraged to participate in these jobs that have been traditionally ‘white jobs’. That kind of conversation amongst the film industry absolutely should spill over into live theater.”
While some of the pushes for diversity are still under review, the Academy has set a precedent that may encourage calls for representation and inclusivity within the entertainment industry. The Oscars’ push for diversity has opened up an important dialogue and an opportunity to include underrepresented voices among the stories chosen for major awards.