Little Gold Men

The Oscars Are Changing Faster Than Ever. Here’s Why

Vanity Fair sits down with the leaders of the Academy to get into that new casting award, the push for a more international Oscars, and whether the timing of the show will ever change: “This date seems to be the one.”
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I can’t remember a time when the Academy announced as many major developments as it has over the past year. Last summer, the storied 10,000-plus-member group behind the Oscars announced a new theatrical requirement for all best-picture nominees, beginning in 2025, to run in at least 10 of 50 major US markets—a dramatic increase from current rules, and a clear statement in the streaming era. This month alone, the Academy’s Board of Governors announced both the addition of a new casting award to be implemented in 2026—the first new competitive Oscar in more than two decades—and the formation of separate branches for animated features and short films, following years in which the two formats were controversially combined.

If some of these changes seem in the weeds, they’re reflective of a broader reality that anyone who loves movies (and of course, awards season) should know: The Oscars are changing—faster than ever.

This is a fact reflected in this year’s thrilling, sometimes divisive nominations. Non-English-language films are more prominent than ever, from Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest competing for best picture and more to Japanese titles The Boy and the Heron and Godzilla Minus One finding love in the animation and visual-effects categories, respectively. You could say the Parasite phenomenon from 2020 set a new kind of template. As I discuss on this week’s Little Gold Men with Academy president Janet Yang (who oversees the Board of Governors to set strategy) and CEO Bill Kramer (who oversees the Academy’s employees and business), these are direct results of a concerted push to make the Academy more global. Around a quarter of members are now non-American, and ballots are being cast from a record number of countries.

It’s a lot to get into. You won’t meet two people who think more about the Oscars, and their future, year-round.

Vanity Fair: How do you define the project of the Oscars—this tradition that evolves and changes as this medium changes—these days?

Janet Yang: When it comes to the Oscars, it is a fascinating project. I like the way you put that, because it is traditional, it’s been around for a long time, so much of the industry revolves around it, and it becomes the focus of a lot of other industry activities—but at the same time, the industry is also changing and audiences are changing and the way audiences watch things are changing. So we like to think we’re being innovative and entrepreneurial while still preserving the legacy and the traditions that people love and expect from the Oscars.

Bill Kramer: Obviously, people know us for the Oscars. It is the biggest award show in cinema in the world. Definitely defines our brand, continues to. It’s one of the many ways we recognize and celebrate cinema. We also have our Governors Awards, our SciTech Awards, our Student Academy Awards—but we also have the world’s largest film museum. We’re a preserver and a curator and a programmer of film history. We have the largest film-related collection in the world, over 23 million items across disciplines, props, costumes, scripts, photographs. We’ve been collecting since the 1920s. No one has a collection of this scale. We’re also a membership organization: We have 11,000 global members. These are film artists and professionals of the highest caliber across disciplines. All of this is to say, when I think about our future, obviously the Oscars are a huge part of it, but we’re really planning for our next 100 years and thinking about a much more holistic way of thinking about the Academy. We sit in a space that is really about centering the work of the global film community across disciplines, genres, eras, areas. The Oscars will always be a huge part of the work that we do, but we’re so much more than that.

This global film community you’re focusing on is very reflected in this year’s nominations. What about bringing in more international members and expanding the reach of the Oscars reflects this effort that both of you were talking about, to look toward the future and to plan for these next 100 years?

Yang: The world is definitely getting smaller. Communication across national boundaries is now the norm. In the recent years that we’ve seen this change of more international presence in our nominations, that I think will become more the norm as well. That reflects the internationalization of our membership. It is interesting how quickly the evidence of the change of membership is reflected in the nominations. There’s so much talent around the world. It creates a much more robust and interesting Academy to recognize that.

Kramer: One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that people were engaging with movies in a way that we had not seen before. The lines between international, classic, cinema, documentaries, and animation blurred a bit. People were at home watching films, and I think the approach to engaging with cinema has become much more global. The Academy sits at the center of that. So as Janet said, we’re much more global as a membership than we used to be. 25% of our members are non-U.S. You’re seeing this reflected in our nominations, international cinema beyond the international feature film category. For the Academy to evolve with the way film lovers, the film industry, and filmmakers are engaging with cinema, we need to become more global and we’re doing it.

Yang: It’s interesting that it was just three years ago where director Bong Joon-ho talked about subtitles being an obstacle, and now that obstacle has seemed to dissolve overnight. That was in large part because of the pandemic and because people are just used to it. I know younger generations like looking at subtitles even when it’s in their native language because they feel like, that way, they won’t miss any of the dialogue. Habits are changing.

Movies like Anatomy of a Fall or The Zone of Interest are still not as big as some films that would’ve been nominated instead in another era of the Academy. How do you balance the fact that international cinema remains a growing category with the need to meet a big audience in an Oscars telecast?

Kramer: We think about this year-round, but especially as we move into awards season and the show. Obviously, the more people are watching movies and the more those movies are nominated, there’s renewed interest in the show. Those points are linked, but I think people are engaging with cinema in so many different ways now. When we think about the metric for success around the Oscars, yes, we want millions and millions and millions of people around the world to watch on the night of. We’re in 200 regions and countries. But there’s also the +7 [non-live-viewing audience] who’s watching it the following week on Hulu, who’s watching components on social. We have a huge social media component that’s really grown in the last two years, both for the Academy and specifically for the show. We have to think very carefully about how people are watching movies…. There are many ways to define viewership and success both in the films and with the Oscars, and over the next several years, we’ll be thinking very carefully about how all of that is linked.

Yang: We’re clearly living in a time of great change, and it’s a balancing act always, but we’re constantly engaging with our members, our governors, with the industry at large, and getting temperature reads about: What are we ready to do? What are we not ready to do? It’s a really healthy conversation. I see our role at the Academy as being one of leadership because we represent so many different disciplines. We need to hear from everybody because so many of us are going through the same thing.

It is an open secret that a lot of times, of the nominees, it’s the international movies that haven’t been seen as widely going into the final phase of voting. It’s my understanding that it’s important for the Oscars to have a certain amount of runway to make sure that those movies particularly are seen by all voters. The show has been dated for March recently, which some view as too late in the cycle. Do you view its value as making sure people have enough time to see everything? And on the other hand, do you ever have fears that perhaps you’re coming too late in awards season?

Yang: So far we haven’t found a better date because of all these factors, the push-pull of giving people enough time to see the films. As you know, we have a couple of different benchmarks. Some branches have shortlists. Then you need enough time for people to see the short list to vote for the final nominees, et cetera, et cetera. So far, this date seems to be the one. I know in the past it’s floated a little bit, but it would be pretty disruptive to a lot of other awards and festivals—because so many things are built around this. What do you think, Bill? Are we looking for another date?

Kramer: David, you’re asking a question that comes up every year and a lot during our awards season, but I would say right now there’s no plan to radically shift the time of year where we produce the Oscars. Everything is very linked to ensuring that our branches who create shortlists have enough time to vet the films, watch the films, and then have all our members watch the films. Same with those disciplines and awards that don’t have shortlists. There’s a pretty rigorous structure in place. But I will say with all of this, it is so important that our members watch the movies before they vote, and we are really promoting that this year. It’s going very well. There are no big plans to move the time of year where we host the Oscars, but it’s something we’re constantly looking at.

I can’t remember a year in which the Academy has announced as many significant evolutions. The addition of a new award, new branches, and also one that I wanted to ask you about: a stricter theatrical requirement that will be introduced to the nominees in 2025. How do you see this as important to this whole part of the conversation, especially since the world is evolving, and theatrical habits are changing?.

Kramer: We sit in two worlds, the film world and the nonprofit arts and culture world. Both are going through radical business model shifts right now. For the Academy to remain relevant, we need to evolve. So what happened today, creating an animation branch and a short films branch really separating branches that had been combined—as part of that work, we’re listening to our members. We’re acknowledging that these are distinct disciplines and areas in our film world, so we as an Academy need to adapt and evolve with the needs of a changing industry and filmmaking community. Same with the casting directors’ award.

With theatrical eligibility, this is an ongoing conversation for us. I want to be clear that that is for next year’s Oscars, and it’s only for Best Picture. And it simply says that you need to play in 10 markets for a week. It’s not onerous. We understand that the theatrical landscape is changing. We do want to honor the fact that seeing a film in a theater for many of our filmmakers is critical to their work as artists and scientists and technologists, so we want to encourage that…. I was the Director and President of the Museum before this, and before that I was the Head of Fundraising and External Affairs for the Museum. But I’ve never seen the Academy in such a great place in terms of members and governors coming together for productive conversations that are civilized. We don’t always agree, but there is a sense of all of us locking arms and moving forward together as an organization. It’s exactly the work that we should be doing as such a high-profile film-centric organization. If not us, then whom?

Let’s talk about the casting Oscar. There was some reporting about the nature of the fact that adding categories is not a simple procedure to ABC’s broadcast. Clearly, you are looking to expand to the full spectrum of filmmaking; it’s always been what the Oscars want to do in terms of what’s being honored. But how do you see the actual show evolving along these lines?

Yang: I feel really proud that we were able to pass that casting awards proposal because it says in theory, in principle, we want this to happen—and we’ll make it happen—even if we don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like. That’s been an obstacle in the past. We all know the show is going to evolve, and we all know we have to make room for other awards and be flexible. We also know that under the current contract with ABC, we cannot add more awards on the show. We gave ourselves a nice long runway to discuss how we’re going to get there. [The award will be introduced in 2026.] We’re also incredibly fortunate that we have the museum as this amazing showcase for people’s talents and for members to engage. That gives us an extra place to think of where we can have activities and what else we might do.

Kramer: We have incredible partners in ABC and they are very eager to continue to evolve the show and our relationship. This is an ongoing, iterative conversation, and I think it’s exciting. It’s part of moving into the next century as an Academy in a very thoughtful way.

How are you approaching this year’s show?

Yang: Last year, we just thought if we had a show that was very solid and crisis-free, we’d be in great shape. [Laughs] And I think we pulled that off. Now the bar is higher, and we’re trying to make it even that much more exciting and fresh. We have the benefit of all these wonderful films. So we’re going to be trying a few things. It will be a lot of feeling of old Hollywood and new Hollywood we think, and bringing the best of both worlds together.

That sounds a lot like the project of the Oscars to me.

Kramer: That’s right.

This interview has been edited and condensed.