Dramatic Step By Academy Comes After Years Of Concern About Hollywood's Lack Of Diversity

Writer-director Bong Joon-ho, winner of the Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and International Feature Film awards for "Parasite," pictured at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards Governors Ball (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Our news is free on LAist. To make sure you get our coverage: Sign up for our daily newsletters. To support our non-profit public service journalism: Donate Now.

A few minutes after "Parasite" won the best picture trophy at this year's Oscars, I ran into David Rubin, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, at the Governors Ball. He looked visibly relieved — for good reason.

Nearly five years after the launch of #OscarsSoWhite on social media, the academy had just dodged yet another exclusionary bullet. Only one of the 20 performers nominated for an acting Oscar in 2020's ceremony was a person of color ("Harriet's" Cynthia Erivo, who lost), and many prognosticators believed "1917" — a movie almost exclusively made by and starring white men — would go home with the evening's top award.

The academy has now taken a dramatic step to ensure an Oscars night dominated by white people on and off the screen will not happen in the relatively near future.

On Tuesday evening, just six months after the 2020 ceremony, the organization announced a radical change. Under new Oscar rules, starting in 2024 a movie must pass at least two of four diversity and inclusion tests to qualify for the best picture statuette.

For the two years ahead of the 2024 changes, films under consideration for best picture will be required to submit a "confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form" even though they will not be required to meet the diversity goals to be eligible.

The move follows a series of academy efforts to modernize its voter ranks. A 2012 Los Angeles Times investigation found that Oscar voters were 94% Caucasian and 77% male, with a median age of 62.

MONOLITHIC VOTING BLOC

That story was sparked by a perception that such a monolithic voting bloc was responsible for so many equally monolithic nominations and wins — like the 2011 best picture award for "The King's Speech." The academy refused to share its membership rolls with The Times, compelling a team of reporters (of which I was a member) to spend a year identifying the age, race and gender of nearly 6,000 Oscar voters.

The academy a few years later launched an initiative to double its female and non-white membership by 2020, inviting thousands of younger and more diverse actors and filmmakers into the organization.

But there was a big problem. According to one academy board member (called governors) I spoke to today, those new Oscar voters weren't landing any more jobs. As study after study proved, the bulk of positions both in front of and behind the camera were still going to white men.

Very little was changing in how Hollywood made movies. That led Lorenza Muñoz, the academy's head of member relations and awards, and governor and producer DeVon Franklin to look at the diversity standards implemented by the British Film Institute. Those standards are tied to government funding and eligibility for some categories in the British Academy of Film and Television Awards, the United Kingdom's answer to the Oscars.

But any material impact on the BAFTAs has been nearly impossible to find. All 20 of BAFTA's best actor and best supporting actor nominees this year were white, and Margot Robbie and Scarlett Johansson both were nominated twice. According to one tally, there were fewer than five black nominees and only a handful of Asian nominees among BAFTA's more than 160 total nominees.

Still, given that American film studios weren't changing their behavior, the academy decided to model the BFI guidelines and change its own requirements, hoping it would lead to more diverse hiring. (Very much like the BFI standards, the academy's new rules require movies to meet at least two of four inclusion benchmarks.)

THE REQUIREMENTS

The new best picture eligibility standards call for at least one lead or supporting actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group or an ensemble that's at least 30% diverse. Another test is that a movie must have multiple department heads who are not white men.

The academy also will reward productions that have internship, training, marketing and audience engagement initiatives aimed at women and people of color.

And yes, according to the governor I spoke to, that would make another film like "1917" ineligible four years from now. But the producers of that theoretical movie would have a lot of time to find and hire a female composer, a Black costume designer, or a disabled editor.

If the movie doesn't want to do that, no one is demanding otherwise.

But its makers will have to make alternate plans for Oscar night.

MORE ON CHANGES IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY