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The Academy Responds to Best Picture Inclusion Standards: 5 Questions and Answers

About the new inclusion initiatives, Academy board member Jim Gianopulos said: "With any deal, each side is a little happy and little unhappy."

Mahershala Ali

Anne Thompson

On September 8, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped a bombshell: Starting with the 2024 Oscars, any film that wanted Best Picture consideration would need to reflect inclusion standards both on screen and behind the camera. The move immediately drew both avid supporters and detractors.

Actress Kirstie Alley unleashed an indignant torrent of tweets after the academy announced its new standards, calling the guidelines “a disgrace to artists everywhere.” (Alley has deleted her original tweet, but remnants remain.)

The Black List founder Franklin Leonard had a more optimistic view.

It’s also the culmination of a process that ignited when April Reign created #OscarsSoWhite in the face of the 2015 Academy Awards. That social-media movement blindsided the Academy as it struggled to justify the awards-season optics of an industry that long preferred lip service to actual change. With the racial justice protests of 2020, those questions became even more acute.

First up was the A2020 initiative, launched in 2015 with the goal of doubling the number of women and people of color in the Academy. Led by membership executives Meredith Shea, producer DeVon Franklin, and Lorenza Muñoz, A2020 surpassed its goals. The next target is  Academy Aperture 2025, with standards adapted in part from the British Film Institute Diversity Standards used for certain funding eligibility in the UK and in some categories of the BAFTA Awards.

In a a phone interview, IndieWire spoke with Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, president David Rubin, producer DeVon Franklin, and Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos about the process of creating the inclusion standards and their thoughts on the industry response.

1. How long has the Academy been developing inclusion standards? 

The Aperture initiative has been in the works for over a year. In answering the question “What is the next phase for five years at the Academy going to look like?” said Hudson, they created the Aperture 2025 programs, with a 10-point plan including long-discussed inclusion standards.

Franklin and Gianopulos discussed diversity issues as members of the Academy’s executive branch committee, and the Board of Governors appointed them to head a task force. They used the 2016 British Film Institute Diversity Standards for funding and awards eligibility as a starting point.

“This change was in play for a long time,” said Franklin. “Our goal was always to continue to do what we can at the Academy to expand and broaden the aperture for definition of excellence. A lot of thought, time, conversation and feedback went into order to get things to where they are now, which are by no means perfect, but which are in the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve, which is progress.”

2. How did the Academy get industry input? 

To create a universal standard of inclusion and representation, the 51 elected Academy Governors that represent the 17 Academy branches checked in with their own members. The Academy also consulted with the BFI and BAFTA, while Hudson, Rubin, and the task force also spoke with indies, studios, guilds, and Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in Media.

“There was a clear understanding that it would take the industry quite a while to react, and we recognize that it was something it would take a while for people to adapt to,” Rubin said.

Franklin said there’s universal “commitment to change” and zero ambivalence from their members and industry partners. “We didn’t do this in a vacuum,” he said. “There’s a real commitment to change across the board, and wanting the industry to look like the world it serves.”

3. Is the Academy representation and inclusion bar too low, making it an empty point-scoring gesture? Or is the bar too aggressively high, making it a barrier for entry for many worthy candidates? 

The Academy knows that controversy surrounds the decision; the members expected it. Said Franklin: “We anticipate that both sides will say it’s too much and not enough.”

Gianopulos and Franklin debated the standards with the shared goal of not allowing the pursuit of perfection to get in the way of progress. “With any deal, each side is a little happy and little unhappy. You never have a perfect agenda moving forward,” said Gianopulos. “It hopefully incentivizes the studios and all the filmmaking community to be more inclusive and diverse… Here are the categories to make progress for change. Pick your category, or pick them all.”

Added Franklin, “It’s a step in the right direction, a place to start so we can begin to get feedback during this ramp-up period … The goal here is not to prevent films from being made: we want all films to be made. If anything, it’s about broadening the films being made.”

4. How did the Academy come up with the ramp-up to 2024? 

Given the high stakes, the Academy wanted to give the industry leeway to adapt to the new strictures. This was especially true with the current stresses of the COVID environment, which has curtailed production.

5. Will these proposals eventually extend the eligibility requirements to other categories? 

Short answer: Probably not. “I think it would be awkward to have a diverse candidate be denied an award in any of the other categories because the film, overall, was unable to meet the standards,” Gianopulos said. “And we think that the best picture category would be inclusive of so many films that aspire to that, and it would drive all the other categories as well.”

Franklin underscored the proposal’s flexibility. For example, the initiative’s Standard C requirements offers a category for indies in the form of paid apprenticeship and internship opportunities, as well as training opportunities and skills development. “The onus for inclusion filmmaking standards falls on larger distribution and financing entities, just so indie filmmakers can funnel their films through those entities, and meet it that way and not be inhibited in their own creative choices,” he said.

All categories other than Best Picture will be held to their current eligibility requirements. Films in the specialty feature categories (Animated Feature Film, Documentary Feature, International Feature Film) submitted for Best Picture/General Entry consideration will be addressed separately.

For more on the Academy’s new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility in the Best Picture category, as part of its Academy Aperture 2025 initiative, read here.

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