This week at the time of writing The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the organisation that hands out the Oscars ) unveiled its four new diversity standards with every film submitted for Best Picture having to tick two of these proverbial four boxes in order to be considered for Best Picture. The internet (as it is prone to do) had a field day. The thing is that if you look at the protocols set out by the Academy for as well-meaning as they are will never be the massive step forward for inclusion nor the huge set of artistic handcuffs narrative portrayed by the new policies detractors.
The truth is that enough people work on your typical Best Picture contender at pretty much all levels to make two of these targets extremely easy to hit regardless of the content or artistic merit of individual films. Audiences could just as easily get aggressively white films built specifically to appeal to an audience of middle aged dads as well as your critic pandering woke friendly awards bait that your typical festival critic will salivate over as they wait to unload praise on whatever A24 is putting out next.
As a disabled film fan (cerebral palsy) that’s definitely a positive angle to these changes that will create more film industry opportunities for disabled people. On one level greater opportunities for the disability community will always be a huge positive. Having looked at many disability work programmes in my vain search for paid employment a lot of the positions that could be created as a result of the programme will allow talented disabled workers to showcase their skills in a broad environment . However, there is no guaranteeing (as with any discussion of disability in the workplace) what level of support production companies would offer in terms of accommodation individual needs. A studio may hypothetically employ 2-3 interns who are on the disability spectrum but may require less support then someone who is more talented but more would need to be done from an accommodations perspective in order for them to work in an environment that meets their needs. The Academy will not be worried about these nuances when looking to see if individual productions pass the diversity criteria. They will just want to make sure various films have ticked the box stating that they met the new requirements. The new policies could also give hiring managers a free pass for committing tokenism and positive discrimination which is wildly different and illegal in comparison to creating an authentically diverse workforce on all levels.
The Academy’s new diversity policies are incredibly well intentioned in attempting to promote a more diverse working environment in the motion picture industry without handcuffing the creative process (unlike what’s the new standards detractors will tell you.) That said enough people work on large scale film productions most films will be able to get by parsing two of the criteria without showcasing any effective diversity (defeating the point of the rules.) The new standards will also give those hiring talent an excuse for committing tokenism and positive discrimination which is it is a very diversity negative move. Whether the rules will have any major impact when they come into force for the 2024 Oscar season remains to be seen but from this writers perspective they are simultaneously well meaning with potential for positive impact and meaningless with hugely negative connotations.