In a surprise announcement this morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed the first part of its “Academy Aperture 2025.”  A phased initiative the organization hopes will “advance inclusion in the entertainment industry and increase representation within its membership and the greater film community.”  The first phase of the initiative outlines specific goals for the Oscars and Academy governance, membership, and workplace culture. The big surprise among the new guidelines? 10 best picture nominees beginning in 2021.

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In a statement, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson noted, “While the Academy has made strides, we know there is much more work to be done in order to ensure equitable opportunities across the board. The need to address this issue is urgent. To that end, we will amend—and continue to examine—our rules and procedures to ensure that all voices are heard and celebrated.”

Academy President David Rubin added, “Through the dedication, focus, and concerted effort of our Board of Governors and members on the branch executive committees, the Academy has surpassed the goals of our A2020 initiative. But to truly meet this moment, we must recognize how much more needs to be done, and we must listen, learn, embrace the challenge, and hold ourselves and our community accountable,” “Academy leadership and our Board are committed to ensuring that we continue to weave equity and inclusion into the fabric of every Academy initiative, committee, program and event.”

The details are as follows:

Regarding the Academy Awards, AMPAS “will encourage equitable hiring practices and representation on and off screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the film community.  To ensure more diverse representation, and in collaboration with the Producers Guild of America (PGA), the Academy will create a task force of industry leaders, appointed by David Rubin and that will include governor and A2020 Committee chair DeVon Franklin, to develop and implement new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility by July 31, 2020.  Eligibility for films in consideration for the 93rd Academy Awards will not be impacted.”

Moreover, “beginning with the 94th Academy Awards (2021), the Best Picture category will be set at 10 nominees, rather than a fluctuating number of nominations from year to year. The Academy will also implement a quarterly viewing process through the Academy Screening Room, the streaming site for Academy members, also starting with the 94th Academy Awards. By making it possible for members to view films released year-round, the Academy will broaden each film’s exposure, level the playing field, and ensure all eligible films can be seen by voting members.”

It’s unclear how locking the Best Picture field at 10 nominees guarantees diversity. Increasing the acting nominations to up to seven performances would have more of an impact, but AMPAS must see something in voting data the public is unaware of that would assist in this effort. In theory, films such as “Mudbound,” “The Florida Project,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and “Toni Erdmann,” among others, might have earned Best Picture nominations under this guidance in previous years.

It’s unclear what representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility mean exactly. In theory, it refers to the diversity of characters on screen and the crew working on the other side of the camera. If there is anything that could potentially get pushback from the membership it’s this directive.

Regarding governance and membership, AMPAS has a lot on deck. The Board of Governors participated in unconscious bias training this past January. Moving forward, this training will be mandatory for all Academy governors, branch executive committee members and Academy staff on an annual basis.  All 9,000+ members will be offered an opportunity to participate in training as well. 

More impressively, the Board of Governors passed a resolution to amend the Academy bylaws to enact maximum governor term limits. Once the amendment takes effect, governors will be allowed to serve on the board for up to two three-year terms (consecutive or non-consecutive), followed by a two-year hiatus, after which eligibility renews for up to two additional three-year terms, for a lifetime maximum of 12 years. The previous limit was three consecutive three-year terms, with a one-year hiatus, and no lifetime maximum. This may seem like a small detail, but it will very much impact the Academy moving forward.

These term limits affect newly elected governors starting with the 2020-2021 board term, as well as sitting governors returning for 2020-2021 in their first or second term. Those returning governors in their third term during 2020-2021 will be allowed to complete their nine-year service, before an obligatory two-year hiatus, after which eligibility renews for one additional and final three-year term, for a maximum of 12 years. For governors who have already served multiple terms exceeding 12 years, they will be limited to one additional term. Branch executive committees will also have a term limit of six years and a two-year hiatus, with a maximum of 12 years.

The Academy will also host a series of panels called “Academy Dialogue: It Starts with Us” for members and the public, with conversations about race, ethnicity, history, opportunity, and the art of filmmaking. Programs will include a conversation hosted by Academy governor Whoopi Goldberg on the lasting impact of racist tropes and harmful stereotypes in Hollywood films. The Academy will also present conversations on the systemic changes that need to occur in areas such as casting, screenwriting, producing, directing, financing and greenlighting of movies in order to afford opportunities to women and people of color and to help create a new narrative for recovery.

There are also new directives for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures which is scheduled to open in December.

AMPAS notes, “The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is committed to building an anti-racist, inclusive organization that will contextualize and challenge dominant narratives around cinema, and build authentic relationships with diverse communities. The Academy Museum will also create spaces that highlight and prioritize the experience of traditionally underrepresented or marginalized people while advancing the understanding, celebration, preservation, and accessibility of movies through its business practices, exhibitions, screenings, programs, initiatives, and collections.”

In doing so, will collaborate “with the recently expanded Inclusion Advisory Committee, comprising more than 20 filmmakers and executives, to help develop public programs, exhibitions, and collections that confront racism, champion the work of diverse artists, and expose historical omissions.”

The Academy rarely talks about their own workplace, but the fulltime staff under Hudson’s guidance will also participate. AMPAS will establish an Office of Representation, Inclusion and Equity to oversee the Aperture 2025 initiative and work with the Board of Governors, Academy staff and experts “to ensure the implementation of best practices and accountability throughout the organization” Academy COO Christine Simmons and Lorenza Muñoz, Managing Director, Member Relations and Awards, will run this endeavor.

Employee Resource Groups will be available to all Academy, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy Film Archive and Academy Museum staff “to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and beyond.”

Aperture 2025 is an ongoing initiative for the organization and the Academy believes the following items have made a significant impact on the following initiatives and programs:

  • Academy Grants Program – The Academy’s FilmCraft and FilmWatch grants were established to identify and empower future filmmakers, cultivate new and diverse talent, promote motion pictures as an art form, and provide a platform or underrepresented artists. Earlier this year, the Academy donated an additional $2 million in funds to 96 organizations that support filmmakers and reach audiences from underserved communities.
  • Academy Gold – Academy Gold is an industry talent development, diversity and inclusion initiative, with a focus on underrepresented communities, to provide individuals access and resources to achieving their career pathways in filmmaking.
  • Action: The Academy Women’s Initiative – Action: The Academy Women’s Initiative includes member-focused global events designed to connect and empower women in the filmmaking community and enable them to share their stories and celebrate inclusion. The initiative also includes the Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, which funds an annual grant for female filmmakers beginning their careers.
  • Academy International Inclusion Initiative – The Academy International Inclusion Initiative aims to bring together a global community of artists by establishing long-term relationships with international film festivals and cultural exchange programs with established and emerging filmmaking communities.
  • Student Academy Awards – The Student Academy Awards, established in 1972, provide a platform for emerging global talent by creating opportunities within the industry to showcase their work.
  • Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting – The Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting is an international screenwriting competition established to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters. Winners are chosen through an extensive, professional script-reading process that also includes Academy-trained readers, with many from underrepresented communities.