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When the Academy on Sept. 8 unveiled its new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility — requiring films to hit a designated number of diversity-focused criteria to qualify for the best film category from 2024 onwards — the official line was that they had been created from a template “inspired by” the British Film Institute’s own Diversity Standards, which since 2019 BAFTA has applied to its two domestic categories, outstanding British film and outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer.
On quick inspection, it would seem AMPAS has deployed a rather generous definition of “inspired,” taking exactly the same pick-and-choose multiple choice structure as the BFI standards and covering exactly the same four areas: on-screen representation, inclusivity among key crew, opportunities and industry access, and developing underserved audiences. It’s not surprising, with the two film bodies having been in close discussions for several months. BFI chief executive Ben Roberts applauded the move, saying it was “fantastic to see the framework adapted by our international colleagues to fit their specific requirements.”
Piloted by the BFI in 2014 as the “3 Ticks” rule before being cemented and expanded in 2016, the Diversity Standards were originally introduced for any film applying to the BFI Film Fund, before being adopted by the U.K.’s other main funding bodies, BBC Films and Film4.
“We felt we wanted to tackle the four key areas of the industry where we could really address underrepresentation,” says the BFI’s head of inclusion, Jen Smith.
In late 2018, Paramount came on board, applying it to all its U.K. productions. Infinite, Antoine Fuqua’s upcoming sci-fi actioner starring Mark Wahlberg, which shot in London, Wales and Scotland, became one of the first. The studio’s head of physical production Lee Rosenthal says they “felt a natural fit for us to join.”
But there are small yet significant differences between the BFI’s standards and those announced by AMPAS, most notably a focus by the Academy across a number of criteria on racial or ethnic diversity. For example, the very first multiple choice option, regarding on-screen representation, asserts that at least one of the “lead or significant supporting actors is from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group,” while under the second category — creative leadership — it insists at least one of the key department heads must also belong to this group. By contrast, the BFI’s current rules largely deploy a blanket “underrepresented groups” umbrella, including race but also gender, sexual orientation and disability, among others. And it’s this that has sparked some level of criticism in the U.K., with the argument being that producers are able to skirt ethnicity altogether.
“There are many ways within the standards which you can achieve diversity, both on screen and off, without including a single black person,” says Dr. Clive Nwonka, a fellow in film studies at the London School of Economics.
Nwonka’s recent BFI-endorsed report into the Diversity Standards — covering 235 qualifying films between 2016 and 2019 — showed that women were by far and away the most popular of the underrepresented groups chosen across the categories, with race/ethnicity not cited nearly as much, especially behind the camera. Nwonka says many productions passed the standards by putting racial minorities on screen (but rarely in lead roles), often while offering no employment for them elsewhere, describing it as a “flawed model.”
There are other differences too. Pippa Harris, the 1917 producer and current BAFTA deputy chair, who headed BAFTA’s film committee when it adopted the Diversity Standards, suggests the U.K. version is “broader and more nuanced,” covering regionality and attempts to push production outside of the main British hubs.
Harris also says that the U.K.’s category C, focused on training and opportunities, has a stronger emphasis on career progression than in the U.S., where the focus is first-time jobs. But she commends AMPAS for including a new consideration of the work of distributors and studios in this area. “Maybe that’s something we can learn from, so you’re looking at both the training and career opportunities within a particular film, but also the company funding and distributing the film and what their policies are,” she says.
The BFI’s standards, and by default those now announced by AMPAS, were designed to be scalable and constantly evolving. The BFI is currently undergoing a review process — taking into account the findings of its own recent report and that of Dr. Nwonka, while also working within U.K. anti-discrimination employment legislation — with the third iteration of the standards likely to be introduced by the end of the year.
Given the wait before the AMPAS standards come into force, Harris suggests there’s enough time for the two sets to be tweaked even further.
“I would hope that over the months and years that these two standards will come together, because it’s going to benefit everyone if AMPAS and BAFTA are aligned in terms of the diversity standards they’re asking producers to work towards,” she says. “It’s only going to be more powerful.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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