While SCOTUS deals with affirmative action, the Film Academy should pay attention

Those who run the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences may want to keep an eye—just one eye, not two, but one nonetheless—on the United States Supreme Court, as the court deliberates on the future of affirmative action in college admissions.

The court, as widely noted, will hear oral arguments in two parallel cases — one against Harvard Private, the other against North Carolina Public University — on October 31. She is then expected to rule sometime next year.

What SCOTUS decides about academic affirmative action appears to have little direct legal impact on the Film Academy and the inclusion criteria based on race, gender and disability that it prepares to impose on the Oscar for Best Picture beginning with the 2024 ceremony. After all, educational institutions are subject to a wide range of state and laws Specific federal and court precedents, and films, even when overseen by a nonprofit organization, remain relatively free from such regulation.

But this does not mean that the academy and the film industry in general will not be affected by the upcoming discussion and possible judgments about racial preference. As we’ve learned from recent decisions on abortion and gun rights, Supreme Court actions can quickly lead to a culture storm. And in the current case, any wide-ranging court ruling against race-based standards — a specific complaint that favoring some black students with weaker academic qualifications means discriminating against some Asian Americans with stronger records — is sure to sweep the academy’s aggressive diversity program into a tumultuous downward spiral.

Over the past few years, as it happens, AMPAS has been behaving less as an industrial assistant and more like a socially conscious contemporary university. Admission, formerly based on merit and a semi-corrupt buddy system (similar to the “old” enrollment processes of the old school), is now openly based on a holistic, college-like approach that balances achievement alongside identity factors. This combination should result in a somewhat more diverse membership, film community, and movie content than in the past.

So industry prestige is no longer something you hold by the throat – achieved through intelligence, wisdom, connections, unfettered ambition, and sometimes talent. Instead, one is granted status, partly based on identity, through the Academy and its outreach programmes, and through similarly linked and directed mechanisms in companies, unions, film schools, festivals, etc.

Achievement is important. But, as in many contemporary college admissions processes, it is just one in a basket of considerations.

When it comes to the Best Picture race, on top of that, Movieland’s inclusion will now be codified under a detailed set of criteria that require producers of hundreds of films to provide packets of confidential information about the race, sexual orientation, and disability status of actors and crew. These criteria are permeated with numerical quotas, which has long been a taboo in college admissions: for example, at least 30 percent of actors must come in secondary roles, six crew members at a certain level, or 30 percent of The total crew from the selected groups is underrepresented.

Once the standards are fully implemented, challenges are inevitable. In any limited field, it is evident, the acceptance of some means except others, just as qualified Asian Americans say they are deprived of universities, or as the Jewish presence at Harvard has been halved in ten years under “comprehensive” policies that supplement merit with “character” and “fitness” requirements after 1925.

Last April, in an unnoticed foray, William Donohue, president of the Catholic Association for Religious and Civil Rights, wrote to then-president of the Academy David Rubin, demanding to know why “religion—one of the original categories mentioned in the 1964 Civil Rights Act—was not mentioned” in Listing Act.

“Why, if the Academy adopts inclusion criteria, has it excluded religion as one of its demographic criteria?” Donohue asked.

It’s an interesting question, just one of many.

And whether the racial and gender quotas are ultimately good for the movies, I don’t really know.

But surely – as much as anything can be done in these uncertain times – Scotos’ racial preference issues are worth watching. They would spark an angry public controversy, both online and on the cable television circuit. And the Oscars are a good bet to finish in the middle of it.


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