With Great Power

Great power comes with great responsibility. Uncle Ben’s immortal, final words in his last moments on this little blue planet. This afternoon, Cal sent me this article about how the Academy was changing the criteria it uses to award the Best Picture Oscar.  Basically, the new rules dictate that starting in 2022, to be eligible to win top prize, movies will need to meet new “diversity guidelines.”  It’s worth reiterating that these new rules only apply to the “Best Picture” contenders and also that they can be satisfied not just by the actors in the movie, but also the staff crewing a movie as well.  So, for example, as Vox helpfully explains— even a movie like The Irishman that looks pretty overwhelmingly white would’ve, in 2022, qualified just fine.  Scorsese’s longtime collaborators (a producer, casting director, and editor) are all women and the film’s cinematographer also hails from Mexico.  Diversity guidelines met!

Initially, I confess, my knee-jerk reaction was predictably annoyance and umbrage.  Another liberal overreach!  Who are they to tell artists how to make movies?  But then as I calmed down and thought through it more, I slowly warmed to the idea as my more authoritarian leanings kicked in.  A few years back, the whole #OscarsSoWhite mania had hit and significantly damaged the liberal image of Hollywood.  Additionally, I actually agree— forget all of the PC stuff.  The structure of the Academy– meaning, the way it’s actually constructed— grants lifetime memberships.  So predictably, the voting membership heavily skews old, male, and white because of historical circumstances. But in 2020 America, the Academy constituency no longer demographically reflects the country and that’s problematic.

Right now, all of the old white men have all (or at least, most) of the power.  And they’re trying to encourage others to come get some of it!  Good for them.  The Oscars is just a prize.  It’s an arbitrary badge of prestige.  If you want to make movies that don’t meet the new diversity guidelines in 2022, you’re welcome to do so!  No one will be stopping you.  The Academy is a private institution and can make its rules accordingly.  If you dislike it, feel free to take your ball and go home.

My take is that the Academy is trying to do a good thing– correct hundreds of years of racism and sexism in its industry. This is a step in the right direction.  Yeah, artists may feel like they’ll need “to compromise their creative vision” moving forward, but if the new guidelines even help a tiny bit in greenlighting more minority-backed and racially diverse movies, then I think that’s good.  This whole situation makes me think of HR hiring policies at big companies like Microsoft and Facebook or college admissions at elite universities.  There are only a limited number of spots and meritocracy is only a part of the picture.  The reason the woman with a less stellar resume may get the job, or a Hispanic student with lower SAT scores may be admitted is because on the company or college-administration end, there is also an interest in maintaining a diverse workplace or campus.  It behooves other super-excellent male and white students (the future Brett Kavanaughs and George W. Bushes of the world) to meet female and non-white students and employees.  It’s a collective consideration that’s for the greater good.

So in summary:  I’m all for it!  Good job, Academy!  Flex those authoritarian biceps!  Be the change you want to see in the world! 👍👍👍