For anyone submitting a movie for a best picture Oscar, an online form now requires information about the race, gender, sexual orientation and mental health of the cast and crew members.
These questions, which were reported on multiple online news outlets this week, were part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s new representation and inclusion standards for Oscar eligibility, announced in 2021.
Coming into effect in 2024, a movie will only be considered for the best picture nomination if a lead or significant supporting character in the film is from an “underrepresented group.”
The film’s plot has to focus on an underrepresented group, and at least 30 per cent of the cast must be from two or more underrepresented groups.
Who makes up an underrepresented group? The academy defined them as either a woman, a member of an ethnic minority, LGBTQ or people with disabilities.
Oscar voters, directors and media commentators are perhaps unsurprisingly concerned about these new inclusivity standards.
Their main objection is that by obligating studios to cast certain types of people in order to be nominated, the academy is making the whole process contrived.
Why should artistic expression and human commentary be limited by the culture, creed or capability of any specified group? Quiet simply, the person who is right for the part should get the part.
During an interview on PBS earlier this year, Jaws star Richard Dreyfuss criticised the Oscars’ inclusivity changes for this very reason.
“It’s an art. No one should be telling me as an artist that I have to give in to the latest, most current idea of what morality is,” Mr Dreyfuss said.
“You have to let life be life. I’m sorry, I don’t think there is a minority or majority in the country that has to be catered to like that.”
These new regulations can only hurt a story, one that is a personal vision of every artist, by treating identity as more important than narrative or the coherence of a story’s vision.
Based on these new standards, critically acclaimed films like 2022’s All Quiet on the Western Front, which had a historically accurate white male cast for the World War I period film, would have failed to meet the criteria.
More disheartening is that past winners, such as Schindler’s List, Gladiator, All the President’s Men, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca and several more would have failed to qualify for the Oscars if the new standards were in place.
Quoted in a recent online article from OpIndia.com, a studio executive suggested that the academy has “been going overboard on this for quite some time.”
“Casting is getting less organic and more about checking boxes. It’s hurting the product, not helping, and I don’t think it’ll be good for anyone in the long run,” the executive said.
“I think the academy got itself into a corner with inclusivity, and now it can’t get out.”
Fr Peter Malone MSC, founding member of The Film Critics Association, accepts that any organisation has the right to establish regulations, but commented that “they need to be clear, defined and achievable otherwise they are open to critique, controversy and being flouted or ignored”.
With an experience in cinema that spans over half a century, Fr Peter points out that, prior to these regulations, there had already been a rise in greater representation.
“Racial representation has increased in recent years particularly African Americans in American films, African or West Indian British in British films, and First Nations in American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand films,” said Fr Peter MSC.
“More cast with disabilities appear in films, like in the 2021 Oscar winner, Coda, whose cast included those with hearing impairments.”
Even prior to 2021, actor with disabilities were being cast in major roles that celebrated their gifts but enriched the story such as deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, who starred in the 2018 horror film A Quiet Place and its 2020 sequel A Quiet Place Part II.
“This appropriate representation of minorities is to be encouraged”, says Fr Peter “but the success and impact of the film will always depend on having the best actors for convincing performances”.
Other standards address further inclusion of underrepresented groups in paid apprenticeships and internships, as well as in marketing, publicity and distribution.
The new rules will come into effect from the 2024 Academy Awards which will be held in March.