Hollywood’s move to inclusivity at the Oscars

Saachi Sharma, Staff Writer

With the Oscars airing over the weekend and producing history-making winners like Chloe Zhao, who was the first woman of color to win Best Director ever, there seems to be discussions around the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’s move to expand inclusivity in the movie industry.

The Academy laid out four organized standards each with three different categories for filmmakers to choose from. As stated on the Academy’s website, Standard A covers on-screen representation, Standard B is directed at creative leadership and project teams, Standard C surrounds industry access and opportunity, and Standard D is for audience development.

For a film to even be considered for the Best Picture category, it must meet at least one requisite from each standard.

For example, to attain Standard A filmmakers must either cast at least one lead or major supporting character from an “underrepresented racial or ethnic group,” depict at least two “underrepresented groups” within 30 percent of its secondary roles, or present a storyline that surrounds an “underrepresented group.”

“Underrepresented racial or ethnic groups” include Asians, Hispanics, Black/African Americans, Indigenous peoples/Native Americans, Middle Eastern peoples, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, and any other racial or ethnic minority, according to the Academy’s website. “Underrepresented groups” include all those previously stated plus women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with cognitive or physical disabilities, and people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

While these rules are not officially being implemented until 2024, this may mean a lot for the progression and inclusivity of Hollywood. After years of outrage and endless accusations that the movie industry hasn’t given nearly as many opportunities to minorities as White individuals (more specifically White males), the Academy is attempting to encourage more diversity within the cast and crew of films with physical incentives.

Despite their good intentions, these inclusivity requirements have received plenty of pushback.

Many argue the Oscars are designed to reward movies for how well done the acting, directing, writing, music score, costume and makeup, and other aspects of films were, and that has nothing to do with race or gender. The fear is that films may only win because of how many “underrepresented groups” are represented instead of how good the movie is.

But this year’s lineup featured movies that proved otherwise.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” was a fan favorite this year and it’s not hard to see why. The movie wittily tells the story of seven men who were arrested and put on trial after protesting against the Vietnam War.

The “Chicago 7” was originally eight when Bobby Seale, a Black man and well-known figure of the Black Panther Party, was added to the trial for simply being in Chicago for a few hours around the same time to give a speech. He was later dropped from the case after being gagged and tied in the courtroom.

Yahya Abdul Mateen II, who played Seale, exemplifies how the perspective of an “underrepresented group” member in an almost all-White cast can only add depth to a story. The treatment of Seale in the courtroom was overwhelmingly infuriating, but featuring Mateen’s portrayal was necessary as the story wouldn’t be complete without it.

“Sound of Metal,” a movie depicting the struggles and eventually the beauties of something most would consider a disability, deafness. Riz Ahmed gave a stand-out performance as a drummer who loses his hearing and slowly his girlfriend, and bandmate, and must find ways to cope with it before finally accepting and appreciating his state.

Not only was Ahmed the first Muslim actor to receive a nomination in the Best Actor category, but his character was also considered a part of the “underrepresented group” as he is deaf.

“Minari,” a front runner for Best Picture for many critics and viewers, was more or less the concept of the “American dream.” A Korean family of four immigrate to America in search of a better life by growing a farm. Throughout the film, viewers experience a realistic demonstration of the tensions and struggles immigrants may go through when working toward the vision of financial independence.

“Minari” presented a complex situation in the most modest way possible while shedding light on elements of Korean and immigrant culture. The family communicates with each other mostly in Korean as it is their first language. Still, by the end of the film, it felt like they fit the template of the “American dream” more than most “real” Americans.

Contrary to what many may argue, the Academy’s forced inclusivity might in fact lead to more original, barrier-breaking content, with creative perspectives rather than a recycled format that’s been overdone continuously for almost a century.

On the other hand, maybe limitations and formats could lead us into an era of superficially artistic media, tricking us into believing Hollywood has progressed when in fact filmmakers take advantage of the suppression of minorities in their war for a shiny new trophy.

Either way, seeing minorities have more opportunities to get involved with an industry as exclusive as Hollywood is inspiring and there may finally be some different faces accepting Oscars for years to come.