On the heels of a historic election that saw a record number of women and people of color — including Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay — elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors, the organization behind the Oscars has announced new representation and inclusion initiatives for 2020 and beyond. The most striking and potentially most controversial: to be eligible for a future Oscar, contenders would have to meet some as-yet unspecified diversity requirement.
“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,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said in a statement. “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.”
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The new initiatives are being announced as the media industry at large continues to confront the lack of diversity within Hollywood and the Academy, a long-term problem that erupted in public five years ago with the #OscarsSoWhite backlash and has now been thrust back into the headlines with the public outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Those protests have already been led to change in other industries. Earlier this week, the Grammys changed the name of the controversial "Best Urban Contemporary Album" to "Best Progressive R&B Album."
For the Oscars, the Academy will create a new task force — whose membership will include current Governor-at-Large DeVon Franklin — that will implement new representation and inclusion standards for Oscar eligibility. They are tasked with coming up with rules that will go into effect beginning with films released in 2021. Meanwhile, the number of Best Picture nominees will officially be set at 10, allowing for a greater range of titles to be in contention for the top prize. (The Academy made the move back to 10 nominees in 2009, but allowed the number to fluctuate in recent years.)
The recent Best Picture wins by films like Moonlight and Parasite are often held up as evidence that expanding the category has made room for films that wouldn’t have been nominated, let alone won, in decades past. To make it easier to see a wider range of films, the Academy will also implement a quarterly viewing process on the official streaming service, the Academy Screening Room. That move to 10 nominations will also officially take effect with the 94th Academy Awards, which will likely be held in 2022. The 93rd Academy Awards — celebrating the films of 2020 — are currently scheduled for Feb. 28, 2021, although the Academy is reportedly considering postponing the event.
Changes will also be seen among the board of governors in the form of term limits. Previously, governors could serve up to three consecutive three-year terms with a one-year hiatus and no lifetime maximum. Under a new resolution, that begins with the newly elected 2020-21 group, governors will only be allowed to serve for a lifetime maximum of 12 years broken down like so: two three-year terms, followed by a two-year hiatus, and then the possibility of two additional three-year terms. Moving forward, unconscious bias training will be mandatory for Academy governors, branch executive committee members and Academy staff, and the organization will also host a series of public panels moderated by industry leaders like Goldberg and featuring conversations about diversity, inclusion and Hollywood’s history of racial stereotyping.
The Academy’s announced plans received a mixed response on Twitter, with some praising the organization for acting and others expressing frustration that these changes hadn’t been implemented sooner.
Experienced Oscar watchers also hoped for more specificity about how the announced task force would evaluate potential nominees for inclusion and representation.
Look for some of those questions to be answered as the Academy continues their diversity initiatives as the year unfolds.
The 93rd Academy Awards will air February 28, 2021 on ABC.
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