Guidelines for The Gold

by Anjali Yedavalli

The Academy Awards have always been simultaneously highly regarded and highly controversial. In 2015, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending after all 20 acting nominations were given to white actors and actresses. Coming off the heels of Black Lives Matter movements and talks of gender inequality, the public expressed their tiredness with the perpetual shutting-out of people of color and other marginalized groups. 

Fast forward five years later, and the Academy has announced its new “diversity” guidelines for Best Picture as part of their Academy Aperture 2025 initiative. The guidelines have four “standards,” and the film must meet at least two of these standards to qualify for Best Picture (each standard is a list of criteria and at least one of these criteria must be met for the overall standard to be met). Standard A is the most significant (and most talked about) of these standards, and it is summarized here:

  1. At least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors must be from an underrepresented minority group (Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African American, Indigenous/Native, Middle Eastern/North African, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander)
  2. At least 30% of general cast/more minor roles must be in at least two of these underrepresented groups: Women, racial or ethnic group, LGBTQ+, those with disabilities
  3. The storyline follows an underrepresented group.

Other standards cover topics like diversity in the creative team (director, writers, etc.), paid apprenticeships and opportunities that the film gave to people in marginalized communities, and diversity on the publicity/senior executive teams.  

So—what does any of this even mean?

Many people have come out and criticized the Academy for attempting to “force” diversity onto films, noting that a movie like 1917 would not have qualified for Best Picture in 2020 under these guidelines. Others argue that meritocracy should continue to be upheld, and that guidelines like these only make it easier for less qualified people to be nominated. But it is hard to sympathize with such a train of thought when perfectly qualified individuals from minority groups are rarely nominated. For example, one notable snub from the 2020 Academy Awards includes a directing nomination for Greta Gerwig for Little Women (2019). Her nomination would mean being the odd one out, as Best Director is known to be a male-dominated category. Another snub was an acting nomination for Awkwafina in The Farewell, an Asian-American actress who, again, would’ve broken barriers, with Asian-Americans rarely receiving acting nominations. The fact that these two highly worthy individuals did not receive recognition for their work was enough to turn heads. 

In practice, these rules only make the minimum of difference—and more action will likely be needed. With so much flexibility on each condition and a very broad definition of who qualifies as a marginalized group, most film productions will not be impacted. If you are having trouble picturing that, just think about it like this: A film with all white actors could still be nominated if their director was a woman and people of color on their executive team.

  In other words, when watching the movie, you may not see that diversity represented at all. These rules mean well, but it’s hard to say if they’re really pushing the barrier, and many will argue that it is not the correct way to encourage diverse films.

Everyone wants the same thing: good films to be made with good actors and good stories. But when every group does not have the same starting point, everyone will not get to the finish line as easily. That is the real intention of rules like these, even if they are not completely effective. Rather than diminishing meritocracy, it ensures the bare minimum—the equity for marginalized groups in film, a form of representation that has been denied to them for so long. 

About Anjali Yedavalli

Anjali Yedavalli is a senior at Dunlap High School. Aside from taking academically rigorous classes, Anjali is involved in Speech Team (IHSA State qualifier in 2020), Student Council, UNICEF Club, the school plays, Jazz Choir, and is the Madrigal Queen of Dunlap’s Madrigal choir. Anjali’s main goal in the community is spreading passion for both academics and creativity. She has organized and led multiple public speaking workshops for middle school students and volunteered her time at North South Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding underprivileged children in India. In addition, she has joined and contributed to the Dunlap Young Musicians, a student-created music group that performs at senior homes on the holidays. She is also active in her Sunday School (Chinmaya Mission) and has helped write promotional songs and plays to help fundraise for the school. Last but not least, Anjali is a classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer of Mythili Dance Academy and has contributed to shows that have raised over $500k for a variety of charities.

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