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Less than 24 hours after unveiling new representation and inclusion standards that will have to be met for films to be eligible for the best picture Oscar starting in 2024, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is speaking out about what it hopes the measures will achieve — and responding to criticisms from some members who feel they go too far or not far enough.
On Wednesday morning, The Hollywood Reporter spoke by telephone with producer DeVon Franklin and Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos, the members of the Academy’s board of governors who led the task force that produced the standards, as well as the Academy’s CEO Dawn Hudson and president David Rubin. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation.
I understand these measures came out of the task force and then went before the full board of governors for approval. Was there unanimous support at that point?
HUDSON We went through a lot of committees, and we had incredibly enthusiastic support from our awards committee to our board of governors. It’s confidential in the board of governors, but it was widely and enthusiastically supported.
Since the announcement went out yesterday, what sort of feedback have you received from Academy members?
HUDSON I’ve received a lot of calls and emails, not just from members but other people outside our community. It’s been bolstering. It’s been a pleasure to see how people are reacting, supporting the Academy and supporting principles we all believe in.
FRANKLIN Yeah. The response I’ve gotten on social and email has been tremendous. I think people are excited to see this proactive change and really feel like it’s a step in the right direction. Finally, it feels like there’s a commitment to representation and inclusion. And so the response so far, from my vantage point, has been wildly popular and incredibly exciting.
There are always people who will take issue with anything you do, but what’s interesting about this is they are coming from both ends: some feel you went too far, while others feel you didn’t go far enough. Those who feel you didn’t go far enough say that these requirements would not have impacted a single best picture nominee from the 21st century, and therefore question the actual impact that they will have.
RUBIN We haven’t done a statistical analysis, but this is much more and mostly about focusing on a mindfulness and an intention in the decisions that we all make when making movies. So there may be films in the past that would or wouldn’t have qualified, but it’s really about directing and changing mindsets.
GIANOPULOS Yeah. I think there’s been a growing focus on inclusion socially and certainly in the creative community. This is an effort to go from intentions to definitive action and progress. And, of course, you can pick at any of the elements of it. But the intention is to be aspirational and objective and to lead the industry toward a better version of itself.
On the flip side are the people who feel you went too far, people who are asking why, in a year in which Parasite, a film with an all-Asian cast, won best picture, and just three years after Moonlight, a film with an all-Black cast, won best picture, the Academy is, for the first time, getting into regulating as opposed to just recognizing merit.
GIANOPULOS Well, I think that’s indicative of progress, but we aren’t that far away from #OscarsSoWhite, and the efforts that have been made by the Academy to diversify its membership, to diversify its governors and leadership, are all steps in that direction. Certainly, making an effort to provide objective standards that the industry can look to to continue its diversity and inclusion efforts is something that we felt was really important.
FRANKLIN I totally agree, Jim. The question here is about expanding the aperture for excellence. This is not about restricting creativity; if anything, this is about enhancing it. And so when you look at the standards, we put a lot of time and effort and feedback and communication into making sure that there was flexibility. And, to your point about it not going far enough, that criticism — we understand it. It’s not perfect. But we didn’t want perfection to get in the way of progress, and we do feel like this is progress. And there’s a lot of flexibility for filmmakers or studios or financiers to be able to adapt to these standards in a way that only enhances the creative process, doesn’t restrict it.
Some members have raised questions about how this will work in practice. I imagine you probably consulted with legal experts, but I have to ask: Is it actually legal to ask for people to provide their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability status? And how does one verify the answers that you receive?
HUDSON This is about self-reporting. People [will] volunteer this information. And yes, we worked with attorneys, and we spoke with the unions and the guilds about this as well before voting on it and announcing it. So it is about volunteering on the part of crews and on the part of executives and staff. And people have been happy to volunteer that information because they want their films to be more inclusive and representative. But, of course, we’re forcing no one to do that.
At least one Academy member yesterday asked if Jews are an “underrepresented race or ethnicity.” Are they?
HUDSON We listed the underrepresented groups and are pretty detailed about that. A white Jewish man is not considered underrepresented in Hollywood and in the areas that we’re looking at. We’re looking across the board for more representation and more inclusivity. It’s not about catching people out on these rules; it’s really about working with an industry that wants to do better, that wants to be more inclusive, that wants to use all the talent that is available to us.
Thomas Doherty, a distinguished Brandeis University professor and film historian, tweeted yesterday, “The last time AMPAS imposed a political requirement for the Oscars was in 1957, when it barred Communists and Fifth Amendment witnesses from receiving Oscars. It lasted just two years. ‘We honor solely for merit,’ said board member Samuel Engel when the ban was overturned.” Is that an apt comparison? And, if not, why not?
GIANOPULOS Well, simply because this isn’t about excluding people; it’s about including them. This isn’t exclusive in any way. It’s making an effort, or creating an incentive, for the industry to further diversify, and in many different ways, without dictating how.
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