Oscars announces landmark new diversity rules for Best Picture hopefuls to boost LGBT+ and other underrepresented groups

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho poses in the press room with the Oscars for Parasite

Beginning in 2024 with the 96th Oscars, films hoping to qualify for the top Oscar will have to meet a set of and off-camera inclusion quota that includes LGBT+ representation.

The body that hands out the Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, announced Tuesday (9 September) the new standards, signalling from one of the most influential awards ceremonies a desire to change an institution long criticised as too straight, white and male.

To make the prestigious Best Picture category, film-makers must now outline exactly how they have strived to make their productions more diverse.

The Academy established four categories within its diversity standards: representation on-screen, among the creative crew, training schemes as well as internships and the film’s publicity, marketing and distribution teams. Films must meet two of the four standards in order to be considered.

“We believe these inclusion standards will be a catalyst for long-lasting, essential change in our industry,” Academy President David Rubin and Chief Executive Dawn Hudson said in a joint statement.

Both on and off-screen, film industry must be more diverse, the Oscars says. 

The sweeping and detailed diversity guidelines outline strict numbers or percentages of actors, production staff, marketing staff and interns on a movie that must be filled by LGBT+ people, people of colour, or people with abilities to be considered.

For example, to meet onscreen representation at least one lead or major supporting actor must be from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.

If not, around 30 per cent of actors in secondary or minor roles must be at least two of the following: women, from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, part of the LGBT+ community, or disabled. Or, overall, the film’s main storyline must focus on an underrepresented group.

To qualify for its off-camera standard, the Academy said that either at least two creative department leaders, six rank-and-file creative staffers or 30 per cent of the crew’s composition must be from underrepresented groups.

For the final two standards — “industry access and opportunities” and “audience development” — a production must prove it has assigned underrepresented groups to either internship and training placements, or to its marketing, publicity, and distribution teams.

Films that do not meet two of the four standards will not be eligible for Best Picture – but films will only be held to such requirements for the top gong. All other categories will be held to their current eligibility requirements.

Staff carry an Oscar statue while preparing for the 90th awards. The Academy's some 7,000 members are chiefly white and male. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Staff carry an Oscar statue while preparing for the 90th awards. The Academy’s some 7,000 members are chiefly white and male, even as recruitment drives try to change that. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

The guidelines were developed by a task force led by academy governors DeVon Franklin and Jim Gianopulos. Current standards held by overseas equivalents, such as the British Academy of Film and Television Awards, were seen as blueprints, Franklin and Gianopulos said.

These measures, the Academy hopes, will tackle the industry’s severe representation problem. As much as on-screen diversity is at an all-time high, less than 30 per cent of lead roles cast actors of colour.

But baby steps first, the Academy said. For the 2022 Oscars and the 2023 Oscars, film-makers must file a confidential academy inclusion standard form to be considered eligible at all.

Indeed, the honours have for years been reviled by campaigners for presenting all-white, all-male acting slates come nomination time.

Many have fired at both the makeup of the Academy itself and the film industry as a whole which has only made slow change despite films with more diverse casts being among the highest-grossing films in recent years.