Oscars diversity guidelines place barrier on free storytelling

Aoife Breslin

After nine decades of the Oscars predominantly nominating white actors, the Academy has set new representation and inclusion standards.

The Academy landed themselves in trouble after the 87th Oscars when all 20 acting nominations went to white actors. #OscarsSoWhite began trending across the internet, making it evident that the Academy had to make a change.

This month, we saw the introduction of inclusion guidelines, with new criteria put in place for the 96th Awards in 2024. Future Best Picture nominations must adhere to new terms and conditions.

At least one main character must be from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. The storyline must focus on women, LGBTQ+, disabled people or people with ethnic backgrounds. Finally, 30% of cast members must be from at least two of these categories.

These new standards are not just designed to reshape how movies are rewarded. These standards will change the hiring process. However, is it logical to ask producers to select their team based on ethnicity rather than suitability?

Films take their audiences to a place in time. How can a director take us back in time to the Irish Civil War if they have to include ethnic groups who were not within the Irish population at the time? These stories should be told freely, without constraint, it is the only way for films to be truly believable.

The film industry must make inclusion a priority going forward, there is no question about that. But not all stories can be told under these new diversity guidelines.

The implementation of these rules will not break the racial divisions. The only way we can truly demolish this issue is if we stop allowing race to be considered a difference. We need racial, ethnic, and other differences to become completely irrelevant if we are to move forward as one.

The welcoming of new members into the Academy is bringing us closer to this becoming a reality. Women and people with ethnic or racial backgrounds made up for 45 per cent and 36 per cent of Academy membership in 2020, respectively. The Academy now includes members from over 65 countries.

With ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Parasite’ both winning Best Picture in recent years, it must be questioned if these new diversity guidelines are needed? Or have they been put in place to protect the Academy’s image?

These guidelines are too safe to produce major results in terms of inclusion within the film industry. I do acknowledge that a change must be made to combat diversity issues, but these new requirements are not the way to achieve this.

Aoife Breslin

Image Credit: Megan Hannan