And the Oscar goes to…

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recently announced inclusion standards to be eligible to win an Oscar for Best Picture. In order to be considered for a Best Picture award, films will now have to meet a minimum number of criteria as determined by an Academy task force.  According to the academy, “The Standards are designed to encourage equitable representation on and off screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience”. In my opinion, this calls into question the fairness of setting such standards despite the Academy’s claim its intent is to increase diverse representation in film.  

We’ve occasionally mocked the very concept of the Academy Awards. Especially in today’s world, the idea of having a forum where individuals who get paid relatively exuberant sums of money compete for the best in anything seems frivolous.  What is more important, why do we even have awards in the first place. Isn’t art subjective? Famously, Marisa Tomei, a white female, took home the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 1993 Academy Awards. Alfre Woodard and Rosie Perez weren’t even nominated for their work that same year. Was Tomei worthy of the win? Was it discrimination by the Academy? Does it even matter?

In a previous blog, I wrote about Disney’s live adaptation of Mulan. On a subsequent episode of Oh Brother, we made a point of acknowledging cultural issues with the film.  Although Disney did the right thing casting mostly Chinese actors, they missed the mark with location shooting and other missteps of the Chinese culture. It sparked a great deal of debate and controversy even leading to the trending #boycottmulan. But isn’t this for Disney to address and not the Academy?  Shouldn’t filmmakers be held accountable to such standards by the public deciding whether or not to see a film?

I’m reminded of playing little league baseball and instead of an award for best batting average or most home runs, they hand out trophies for just participating. Doesn’t that make awards even more insignificant than they are already? And I don’t recall ever receiving a little league swag bag for making it to the championship game.

The Academy of Motion Pictures used funding to put together a team of consultants charged with developing the new Best Picture inclusion standards.  Filmmakers actually have a few years before the criteria take effect.  For now, studios only have to fill out a form in a supposed effort to collect data until the rules take effect with the 2024 Oscars. To give you an example of what to expect, take a look at this article from Variety entitled “The New Oscars Inclusion Rules Explained”. Clear as mud?

According to the new standards one criteria requires 30% of actors in secondary and more minor roles be from at least two underrepresented groups including Women, Racial or ethnic group, LGBTQ+, People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing. So you want to be a casting director?

This is, of course, not an endorsement of discrimination when it comes to movies or any other enterprise for that matter. However, is it the responsibility of the Academy to impose a set of standards upon filmmakers to remedy this issue or the filmmakers themselves? In fact, the Academy consists of people who are behind the very making of the films. It’s not as though “we the people” choose the winners.  That’s why we have the highly esteemed People’s Choice Awards. Thank goodness for that or Captain Jack Sparrow may not have taken home the coveted Favorite Motion Picture award in 2004 for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

There’s no question, the film industry as with our country has much work to do in the area of inclusion. But is imposing a set of standards on filmmakers the way to accomplish this goal within the movie industry? Personal bias and prejudice is wrong in all forms, but the most damaging forms of discrimination are systemic in nature.  It is practices and policies that are inherently bias and more likely to lead to the perpetuation of exclusion in terms of diversity. Establishing a set of criteria by which filmmakers will be held accountable, should they wish to be considered for the ultimate prize in movie-making, is certainly a noble idea. But will it lead to real change or end up just another box to check. Filmmakers should diversify their work because it is the right thing to do and not to satisfy an imposed set of criteria. In recent years, haven’t we been moving in that direction? Parasite, Green Book, The Shape of Water, Moonlight (No not La La Land), Spotlight.

Previously, I mentioned playing sports as a kid and getting one of those “participation” awards. And you know what it meant to me?  Nothing! The only award I ever cared about was the one we got for being the best team.  A mandate to meet a set of standards feels a bit like manufactured inclusion. After all, shouldn’t the audience decide at the box office? We don’t get to choose the nominees for Best Picture, but if we didn’t shell out our hard earned money there wouldn’t be a picture in the first place. How about we dispense with the elitist costume balls, melt down those golden statues and donate the money to supporting small businesses owned by those from underrepresented groups, non-profit organizations or supplying secondary schools in lower socioeconomic areas with much needed supplies? Isn’t that a more noble idea than a glorified pat on the back? We’ll let you decide that one and NOT the academy.

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