As the flag-bearer for film awards, the Oscars has never had a heavier burden. Contending with falling viewership as much as an exacting one, held up to standards on screen and off it, the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts has been doing a high-string balancing act, from expanding its pool, to requiring “unconscious bias training” for them, and introducing more nominees to going host-less. The post-George Floyd world has inspired the latest: #OscarsSoWhite seeks to be #OscarsSoDiverse.
From 2024, Best Picture nominees would have to pass at least two criteria of diversity and inclusion — the films must feature unrepresented groups (women, queer, nonwhite, disabled), on screen or in their crew, or on the distribution, marketing, publicity side. But read between the lines, and there hides a twist worthy of its own award. Almost none of the films that provoked a backlash in recent years would be disqualified on the above grounds — The Irishman (for ignoring women), had a Mexican cinematographer; The Green Book (for its white saviour theme) had a black man as lead and several others in the cast, and so on. Even Gone With The Wind, that old favourite wilting in new light, might have slipped its way in.
For the Academy that dreads another 2015, when all its 20 acting nominees were white, the course to a happy ending may be different. In 2020, Parasite became the first non-English film to win Best Picture, showing the one criterion the Academy does need to change: Of “foreign film”. Or, it can go the Berlinale way and become gender-neutral (though it’s debatable where it will leave women in such a male-dominated industry). Diversity, like Oscar winning writer-director Joel Coen pointed out in 2016, is hardly a math sum. “You don’t sit down… say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog’ — right?”