In Critique: New Oscar Rules

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The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to The Edge Magazine or to SUSU.

Schindler’s List. The Return of the King. The Godfather. What links these three films? Firstly, they all took home the Academy Award for Best Picture in their respective years, but they also would not have won that award if the Academy’s all new, divisive inclusion rules were in place.

Hollywood has been enormously scrutinised in the last few years for its lack of representation. Such movements as #OscarsSoWhite emerged from audiences and critics wanting greater representation of minority groups (in this case, black people) in an overwhelmingly white dominated industry. The recent Oscar season saw similar backlash when the Best Director nominees were all male, emphasising both the lack of women behind the camera and the failure to recognise the few that are.

The Academy (made up of nearly 10,000 industry professionals) has been repeatedly criticised in the last few years by a vocal minority, leading to this year’s announcement that from 2022, in order for a film to be eligible for Best Picture, it has to tick two of the four inclusion pushing boxes. These range from having minority (effectively non-white heterosexual males according to the Academy) lead or supporting characters, diverse crew members, diverse apprenticeships and diversity in the marketing teams. 30% is the statistical pass mark for these aspects, a divisive number when you consider the population differences between the under-represented groups.

The Academy (and Hollywood as a whole) has shown how out of touch it is with modern audiences. The recent vast decline in viewership ratings for the Oscar ceremonies stems from the ubiquitous rise in strong opinions, the exhausting political pandering in a post-Trump world and a greater awareness of the corruption, hypocrisy and vanity of the industry. This inclusion rule will no doubt please a lot of progressive campaigners, but upon closer inspection it is flawed, problematic and damages the industry further.

Returning to Best Picture nominated films like The Godfather, 1917, Saving Private Ryan and The French Connection: are the ground-breaking advancements of their storytelling and influential technical form neutered because they are nearly all white male productions? Is appearing socially progressive now more important than pushing an artistic medium forward? This type of affirmative action could be potentially misleading and makes for a multitude of tricky scenarios. For instance, if a director was making a historical epic in a time where only white Europeans lived, then that forces the director to have crew members or apprentices that fit the inclusion rule (if the director and studio want to push for an Oscar nomination). Historically, affirmative action has shown that people put into work positions purely for their race, sexuality, creed or colour may not be the best people for the job. Ability always comes first in work.

The very notion of giving an art-form a checklist to follow is dangerous. Much like the horrendous Bechdel Test preventing Alien, Jackie Brown and Arrival from being ‘feminist films’, the Academy’s inclusion rules will change how people make art simply so they ‘pass’. It may also lead to discrimination towards white male workers and conservative storytellers: the past discrimination of minority groups does not legitimise a similar treatment to non-minorities.

But above all else, successful long-lasting change comes from the slow erosion of the old; it’s never an instant switch. Upon reflecting on the last ten years, it’s obvious that there has been an organic change. Look at what Moonlight, The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out and Black Panther accomplished at the Oscars. Affirmative action is not needed, we’re almost there without it.

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2nd Year History and Film student.

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