Would Any 2020 Best Picture Nominees Actually Fail the New Oscars Diversity Standards? Let's See
After a concerted effort to diversify its voting body and years of backlash for predominantly white slates of nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Sept. 8 that films will have to fulfill a new set of standards for representation and inclusion in order to be eligible for its best picture award. The four requirements focus on representation in onscreen themes and narratives (Standard A), creative leadership and project teams (Standard B), professional development programs (Standard C), and marketing, publicity, and distribution (Standard D). Two of the four standards must be met for a film to be eligible for the best picture category, starting with the 96th Oscars in 2024; all other categories retain the same eligibility rules.
Before making any sweeping claims about the future state of the best picture category, it's worth figuring out how much these rules would actually change things. We looked into all of the best picture nominees from the 2020 Oscars — check out this list to see if any of them would actually be disqualified under the new guidelines.
Director Sam Mendes's one-take drama about World War I features an almost entirely white cast and creative team, but would still pass the best picture test via offscreen avenues. Standard C requires the film's distribution or financing company to have paid internships or apprenticeships available for underrepresented groups, and NBCUniversal's robust internship program almost certainly fits the bill there. Universal Pictures also has multiple executives from underrepresented groups across its marketing, publicity, and distribution teams, meaning 1917 would check off Standard D as well.
Ford v Ferrari
Ford v Ferrari also benefits greatly from Standards C and D. 20th Century Fox, now known as 20th Century Studios, distributed the film. The studio also has an internship program and an executive team that would help it pass these two requirements. Like 1917, Ford v Ferrari's cast and creative leadership are predominantly white, but it could still manage Standard B, which can be met if just six crew or technical team members are from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups or if 30 percent of the overall crew is made up of women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, or people with cognitive or physical disabilities. These latter criteria mean Ford v Ferrari and other future best picture contenders with large crews could get by with three out of four requirements despite almost entirely white casts and department heads.
This gritty (and, in my opinion, tiresome) comic book adaptation starring Joaquin Phoenix would also still be eligible. Joker can check off Standard A — which can be met if one lead actor or significant supporting actor is from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group — thanks to Zazie Beetz's performance. Joker's not-all-white producers and female costume designer and composer account for Standard B. Plus, it's distributed by massive studio Warner Bros. Pictures, which means it, too, can easily check off Standards C and D.
The reigning best picture winner would certainly qualify. Parasite's predominantly South Korean cast, crew, and creative team help the film sail past Standards A and B. In terms of Standards C and D, the film's small indie distributor NEON might have more trouble coming up with robust internships and training programs or executives in audience development. Nevertheless, Bong Joon-ho's biting thriller about capitalism would thankfully still be in the running.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
You guessed it: Quentin Tarantino's ninth film can also rely on Standards C and D, thanks to distributor Sony Pictures. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's producers and creative team also include enough people of color and women — such as casting director Victoria Thomas, set decorator Nancy Haigh, and costume designer Arianne Phillips — to meet Standard B. Though the movie's focus on white male characters means it fails Standard A, it has sufficient representation behind the scenes to still be in contention.
Legendary director Martin Scorsese's crime epic boasts a cast of white men, a running time of over three hours, and enough offscreen diversity to meet the new Oscars requirements. Netflix distributed the film, and the company's executive team accounts for Standard D. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto satisfy Standard B as two creative leadership positions from underrepresented groups. The Irishman is another 2019 film that seems very homogenous at first glance, but has enough going for it to avoid disqualification.
To nobody's surprise, the plot of Little Women is centered on women, which accounts for one of the criteria for Standard A ("The main storyline(s), theme or narrative of the film is centered on an underrepresented group(s)"). Added with distributor Sony Pictures's internship and trainee programs and you have two requirements met! As an admirer of Greta Gerwig's cogent and sincere adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's novel, I'm glad to see it would still make the list of nominees.
The offbeat satire Jojo Rabbit would meet Standard B, because director and writer Taika Waititi is of Māori descent and one of the film's producers, Chelsea Winstanley, is female. The film's distributor, Fox Searchlight Pictures (20th Century Studios' sister company), also employs interns and offers below-the-line work for underrepresented groups, meaning Jojo Rabbit could likely count on Standard C as well.
Marriage Story, a raw chronicling of a couple's divorce, can also thank Netflix's executive team for getting it past Standard D. The film's crew includes more than six individuals from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, meaning Marriage Story nets Standard B, too. It's worth noting that Noah Baumbach's film, like a few others on this list, doesn't feature diverse onscreen narratives and is produced mostly by white men and women. Yet, like every other best picture nominee from last year, it would still be satisfactory under the new regulations.
As this case study demonstrates, the new representation and inclusion standards won't radically change the status quo. A number of factors shared by most Oscar hopefuls, such as major distributors with established career development programs or a reliance on sizable film crews, make these requirements fairly easy to meet. This update to the Oscars' rules simply codifies the importance of equity in the film industry and brings issues of diversity and representation to the forefront of the best picture conversation — which, incremental as it may be, is still a positive step.