The new Oscars diversity rules will have little impact

Another thing to note is that the changes will be much less dramatic than the headlines and social-media buzz implies, both because Oscar films are already pretty diverse and because it is possible to meet the standards in ways that don’t appear on screen. Oscar films have had a healthy representation of stories about disabilities and sexuality for decades, and since 2010, the Oscars have had extremely strong racial diversity, with half the best-picture winners starring non-white leads. It might be a consequential change if going forward this would have to characterize all best-picture nominees, as this would preclude telling certain stories (or at least preclude telling them with period-accurate casting). However, the on-screen rule, Standard “A,” is only one of the four standards. The Academy has made it relatively easy for studios to comply with the other standards. You can expect female publicists to be as important to the woke Oscars rules as Canadian producers are to certifying pop songs as sufficiently Canadian to be played on Canadian radio. And notably, Standard “C” applies to the distribution company, which means that, as is typical of regulations, there will be economies of scale to regulatory compliance. It will be much easier for Disney to create a “substantive” paid internship program that blesses all its releases than it will be for an independent distributor to put two paid internships on its humble books.

Five years from now, we could still have best-picture winners about straight white men such as The King’s Speech, Hurt Locker, No Country for Old Men, or The Departed. And even The King’s Speech and Hurt Locker might qualify under the thematic new rules if you interpret stuttering or PTSD as disabilities. Likewise, a Jane Austen adaptation would count, as it is about women. In the long run, the new Oscars rules could have as little public salience as the largely forgotten diversity internships that several television networks created to appease critics of the notably white 1999 television season.