When it came to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences changing the February 28 date for the 93rd Oscars in 2021, the question seemed to be no longer if, but when. Well, after announcing a newly diverse new Board of Governors, the Academy opted not to plant a flag on a new Oscars 2021 date — or, on any date. (Unusually, Friday’s press release did not cite a date for the next Oscar show.)
Instead, inclusion was the order of the day at the Board of Governors’ well-attended Zoom meeting on June 11. The Academy announced a new phase of equity and inclusion initiatives, and plans to establish representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility. And for the 94th Oscars in 2022, the Board voted to commit to a full 10 Best Picture nominees.
In 2009, the year after Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” failed to make the final five, the Academy expanded the Best Picture field to include from five to 10 nominees via preferential ballot. The goal was to reflect the wishes of the greatest number of voters. Now they are committing to 10, no matter what, rather than a fluctuating number of nominations from year to year.
According to one Academy source, due to the impact of COVID-19 on Hollywood production and distribution, the governors wanted to give some breathing room to next year’s potential Best Picture nominees. So, this may not be a permanent rule change.
In a move to ensure that Academy voting members have a chance to see all eligible movies, the Academy is making its award-season Screening Room, the streaming site for Academy members, available year round, starting with the 94th Academy Awards. The Screening Room will stream movies to members throughout the year, with availability during the quarter they are released. The goal is to broaden each film’s exposure and level the playing field. The 2021 Oscars marks the last year DVD screeners will be sent to members.
Over the past year, the Academy had been working to set more substantial inclusion goals for the next phase of Academy Aperture 2025, the Academy’s equity and inclusion initiative. It planned to make an announcement at the end of June, but the events of the last two weeks spurred the board to address bolder new initiatives on June 11.
Academy Aperture 2025 will further the Academy’s ongoing efforts to advance inclusion in the entertainment industry and increase representation within its membership and the greater film community. New members invited to join the organization will be announced at the end of June. The first phase of the initiative outlines specific goals for the Oscars and Academy governance, membership, and workplace culture.
“While the Academy has made strides, we know there is much more work to be done in order to ensure equitable opportunities across the board,” said Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. “The need to address this issue is urgent. To that end, we will amend — and continue to examine — our rules and procedures to ensure that all voices are heard and celebrated.”
“Through the dedication, focus, and concerted effort of our Board of Governors and members on the branch executive committees, the Academy has surpassed the goals of our A2020 initiative,” said Academy President David Rubin. “But to truly meet this moment, we must recognize how much more needs to be done, and we must listen, learn, embrace the challenge, and hold ourselves and our community accountable. Academy leadership and our Board are committed to ensuring that we continue to weave equity and inclusion into the fabric of every Academy initiative, committee, program and event.”
In order to better reflect the diversity of the film community, the Academy is committed to encouraging equitable hiring practices and representation on and off screen. And to ensure more diverse representation, and in collaboration with the Producers Guild of America, the Academy will create a task force of industry leaders (appointed by Rubin and including governor and A2020 Committee chair DeVon Franklin) to develop and implement new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility by July 31. Eligibility for films in consideration for the 93rd Academy Awards will not be impacted. These standards could have a significant impact on how movies are made going forward — at least, the ones hoping to contend for Oscars.
And, in a long overdue move, the Board of Governors passed a resolution to amend Academy bylaws to enact maximum governor term limits. Once the amendment takes effect, governors will be allowed to serve on the board for up to two three-year terms (consecutive or non-consecutive), followed by a two-year hiatus, after which eligibility renews for up to two additional three-year terms, for a lifetime maximum of 12 years. The previous limit was three consecutive three-year terms, with a one-year hiatus, and no lifetime maximum.
These term limits affect newly elected governors starting with the 2020-2021 board term, as well as sitting governors returning for 2020-2021 in their first or second term. Those returning governors in their third term during 2020-2021 will be allowed to complete their nine-year service, before an obligatory two-year hiatus, after which eligibility renews for one additional and final three-year term, for a maximum of 12 years. For governors who have already served multiple terms exceeding 12 years, they will be limited to one additional term. Branch executive committees will also have a term limit of six years and a two-year hiatus, with a maximum of 12 years.
The postponement of the Oscar-date decision, as theaters slowly open and the industry gauges the mood of the filmgoing public regarding safety in movie houses, means that it will be taken up at a later board meeting, The new board of 54 Governors from 17 Academy branches, including such new voters as Ava DuVernay and Oscar 2020 producer Lynette Howell Taylor, will start meeting after the fiscal year ends June 30.
Until they come up with a date, the board will not give the industry the opportunity to do something it once took for granted: Plan. Now everyone is waiting to make their decisions, from the Guilds to Globes (“It’s fluid,” wrote one HFPA member in an email).
Meanwhile, before Hollywood starts thinking about the Oscars, distributors will continue to expend energy tracking theater openings and the industry will ramp up returning to production. With the impending date change, as well as permitting some streaming titles to compete, the Academy is clearly leaning in to helping filmmakers get what they need. This could benefit lower-budget films with more time to play in theaters, especially since campaign overspending may not play this Oscar season.
The Academy is continuing various diversity initiatives:
The organization will host a series of “Academy Dialogue: It Starts with Us” panels for members and the public, with conversations about race, ethnicity, history, opportunity, and the art of filmmaking. Academy governor Whoopi Goldberg will host a conversation on the lasting impact of racist tropes and harmful stereotypes in Hollywood films. The Academy will also present conversations on the systemic changes that need to occur in areas such as casting, screenwriting, producing, directing, financing and greenlighting of movies in order to afford opportunities to women and people of color.
The Academy also revealed that in January, the current Board of Governors participated in unconscious bias training. Moving forward, the Academy is making annual training mandatory for all Academy governors, branch executive committee members, and Academy staff, and will offer the training to all of its 9,000-plus members, who are still (despite the strides to diversify their ranks since #OscarsSoWhite in 2015) mostly white and male.
For its part, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is still trying to meet its goal to open on December 14, stated its commitment “to building an anti-racist, inclusive organization that will contextualize and challenge dominant narratives around cinema, and build authentic relationships with diverse communities.” The Academy Museum will also create spaces that “highlight and prioritize the experience of traditionally underrepresented or marginalized people while advancing the understanding, celebration, preservation, and accessibility of movies through its business practices, exhibitions, screenings, programs, initiatives, and collections.”
The museum will work in active partnership with the recently expanded Inclusion Advisory Committee to help develop public programs, exhibitions, and collections that confront racism, champion the work of diverse artists, and expose historical omissions.
The Academy will establish an Office of Representation, Inclusion and Equity to oversee the Aperture 2025 initiative and work with the Board of Governors, Academy staff and experts to ensure the implementation of best practices and accountability throughout the organization, led by Academy COO Christine Simmons in partnership with Lorenza Muñoz (managing director, Member Relations and Awards), who will continue to oversee external-facing membership and awards initiatives and global outreach.
All Academy, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy Film Archive and Academy Museum staff will have access to newly created Employee Resource Groups to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and beyond.
Aperture 2025 is an ongoing initiative with multiple phases and programs designed to address institutionalized inequity within the organization and the industry. In order to ensure inclusion in all areas, the Academy will diversify its suppliers, investment opportunities and collections. The organization’s efforts have already been underway via the following initiatives and programs:
FilmCraft and FilmWatch grants seek to identify and empower future filmmakers, cultivate new and diverse talent, promote motion pictures as an art form, and provide a platform or underrepresented artists. Earlier this year, the Academy donated an additional $2 million in funds to 96 organizations that support filmmakers and reach audiences from underserved communities.
Academy Gold is an industry talent development, diversity and inclusion initiative, with a focus on underrepresented communities, to provide individuals access and resources to achieving their career pathways in filmmaking.
Action: The Academy Women’s Initiative includes member-focused global events designed to connect and empower women in the filmmaking community and enable them to share their stories and celebrate inclusion. The initiative also includes the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, which funds an annual grant for female filmmakers beginning their careers.
The Academy International Inclusion Initiative aims to bring together a global community of artists by establishing long-term relationships with international film festivals and cultural exchange programs with established and emerging filmmaking communities.