Next Year Inclusion Rules Are Already Sparking Debate – The Hollywood Reporter
Last fall, an independent filmmaker was filling out an online form to put forward his movie for Oscar consideration when some questions on the Academy’s submissions site caught him off guard. The site asked about his cast and crewmembers’ race, gender and sexual orientations, and had some questions about their health — whether they had autism, for instance, or dealt with chronic pain or mental illness.
“I don’t know, maybe someone on my crew was neurodivergent,” this filmmaker says. “It’s not my place to ask. Did they do their job? Great. And how are we going to know who’s gay when it’s illegal to ask people?”
The questions are part of the Academy’s new representation and inclusion standards for Oscar eligibility (RAISE), which the organization started rolling out in 2021 in preparation for making certain benchmarks mandatory by next year’s awards season. The goal is to spur more inclusive hiring in the film business, but some producers who are trying to comply say the process is cumbersome at best and privacy invading at worst.
“The intention is commendable, but a lot of the questions I felt uncomfortable asking,” says another producer. “I wasn’t going to write to all the actors and ask what their sexual orientation is. And if it’s not something offered up on their bio, are you really going to say, ‘Hey, are you disabled?’ “
Says one studio source, “We want to look supportive of the effort, but legally, we can’t ask a lot of these questions.”
The Academy says it doesn’t expect production companies to know every demographic detail about their workers. “We acknowledge that not everyone will disclose that information,” says Academy executive vp impact and inclusion Jeanell English of the questions. And despite the reservations of producers like these, English says, the first two years of the program have seen “overwhelmingly high participation,” noting that the “majority of films that submitted Oscar submission forms completed a version of RAISE.” Many productions provided even more information than the Academy required, she says. “Sometimes the response was, ‘Wow, this has actually helped me think about what I’m doing on set, and this exercise is valuable.’ Others said, ‘I am really proud of what I’m doing, and I want to highlight it.’ Others said, ‘Hey, I haven’t quite met this standard, but I’m going through this just to practice what it could look like for us in the future.’ ”
When the new rules go into effect for next year’s Oscars, they will require that a film meet two of four inclusion standards to be eligible for best picture (see right). A film could meet the onscreen standard, for instance, by having one of its lead or supporting actors come from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group or by having a storyline centered on an under-represented group, including women, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities. It could meet the industry access and opportunity standard by offering a paid internship and below-the-line training opportunities for people from underrepresented groups.
But some studio sources and independent producers, who spoke off the record because they didn’t want to appear anti-inclusion, say the standards can be byzantine to understand and difficult to gather data for. Multiple studio sources say when they got to the disability/health questions on this year’s submission forms, they largely skipped them.
“When I first looked at it, I’ll be honest, I really freaked out,” says one source. “I felt like I was looking at my taxes. Everybody at the studio looked at each other like, ‘What do we do with this?’ “
The introduction of the RAISE standards is part of Aperture 2025, a broad slate of inclusion policies the Academy passed in 2020, which also included adding mandatory annual unconscious bias training for Academy staff and setting a fixed number of 10 best picture nominees starting in 2021. Aperture 2025 follows on the membership goals the organization set — and met — following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in 2016. Today, 34 percent of Academy members identify as women, up from 25 percent in 2015, and 19 percent are from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, up from 8 percent in 2015.
The Academy isn’t unique in asking the kinds of questions that are in the RAISE forms — the standards are modeled after the British Film Institute’s diversity standards used to determine some U.K. funding eligibility and some BAFTA categories. The Independent Spirit Awards also ask some of the questions as part of its submission process.
Most major studios have procedures to gather diversity and inclusion data about their employees and productions; it’s typically self-reported and compiled by DEI departments. Getting that information for films that studios acquire after they’re made is trickier, and for indie producers, the process of submitting to these awards bodies can be downright dizzying. One producer said she had to create spreadsheets to gather the percentages the Academy wanted and that she kept getting logged out of the Academy’s site, which she called “clunky.” (The Academy says its system automatically calculates percentages for a production, but users say it’s not intuitive.)
The Academy says that in the second year of the rollout, it has added resources to help with the process, directing production companies to sites like Free the Work and Staff Me Up, which maintain databases of cast and crewmembers who self-identify as being from underrepresented groups. The organization also has made it easier to add information anonymously, in response to concerns about privacy. If a production wants to note that an actor or crewmember has a disability, for example, it can do so without specifically naming that person. And it has also fielded input from international productions of forms of underrepresentation that are especially meaningful outside the U.S., such as caste or religion.
The Academy says it is auditing the submissions to confirm that productions are accurately reporting their data. “If we’re seeing some information that feels very off from what we know, we might go back and question the production on the methodology they used,” English says.
However daunting the process, the standards themselves are manageable in practice, say multiple sources working on films in this year’s best picture race. The Academy says that the majority of films producers put forward for the top prize met the threshold, with Standard A, onscreen representation, the most met standard, particularly with women. Standard B, creative leadership and department heads, and Standard C, industry access, were the areas where productions were less likely to meet the benchmark, the Academy said, with many internships put on hold during the pandemic affecting Standard C in particular. Multiple sources said Standard D, which has to do with studio marketing, publicity and distribution units, is also easily attainable, since women and LGBTQ people tend to be well represented in some of those fields.
“When we looked at it, we realized the bar isn’t that high,” says a source at a streamer. “So far there hasn’t been a film of ours that hasn’t cleared it.”
All of which calls into question the purpose of the standards in the first place. If they’re so easy to meet, will they serve the Academy’s stated goal of widening the group of people who get to make films? English says they already are. “They’ve already had a lot of the impact we were hoping for in terms of driving conversations,” she says. “This is the first year they’re going into effect. We hope that it encourages opportunities for more communities to work on films that are best picture nominees.”
To Qualify for a Best Picture Next Year …
Your film must meet two of the four standards:
STANDARD A: Onscreen
The film must meet one of the following:
At least one of the lead or significant supporting actors is from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.
At least 30 percent of all actors in secondary and more minor roles are from an underrepresented group.
The main storyline, theme or narrative of the film is centered on an underrepresented group.
STANDARD B: The Team
The film must meet one of the following:
At least two of the creative leadership positions and department heads, such as the director, cinematographer or costume designer, are from underrepresented groups, and at least one of those must belong to an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.
At least six other crew and technical positions, such as the first AD or script supervisor, are from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.
At least 30 percent of the film’s crew is from an underrepresented group.
STANDARD C: Access
The film must meet both criteria:
The distribution or financing company has paid apprenticeships or internships for underrepresented groups.
The production, distribution and/or financing company offers below-the-line skill development to the underrepresented.
STANDARD D: Audience Development
The film must have multiple in-house senior executives from underrepresented groups on the marketing, publicity and/or distribution teams.
This story first appeared in the March 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.