For the last few years, award ceremonies have come under a huge amount of scrutiny for a lack of diversity in the talent which they choose to celebrate. Heading into a new decade it felt tempting to think that those behind some of the most prestigious awards in entertainment may have started to heed this calls for inclusion. Unfortunately, as the list of nominations came rolling in over the last month, we soon learnt that this was not going to be the case. Although many stars have dipped their toes into political speeches or protests, the huge shadow cast by the lack of diversity is hard to ignore.
On the 5th of January, the Golden Globes kicked off this year’s awards season, and there was a glimmer of hope for what 2020 could bring as two young people of colour picked up major acting trophies. Awkwafina, at 31, was the first Asian woman to win the award for Lead Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and was the first woman of colour to do so since Angela Bassett in 1993. Ramy Youseff picked up the Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy, aged only 28. In the heady days before the BAFTA and Oscar nominations were announced, it seemed as though the tide could be changing for a new generation of actors of colour.
Despite calls from host Ricky Gervais for celebrities to refrain from making their speeches too political, many stars touched on issues ranging from the Australian bushfires to abortion rights in the US. Aussie winners such as Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe (the latter actually absent from the night as he was fighting fires around his own home in New South Wales) made reference to the bushfires and explicitly linked them to global climate change. During her winning speech for her part in Fosse/Verdon, Michelle Williams gave a passionate speech about protecting a woman’s right to choose. She expressed gratitude for living in a time when women could choose when to have children; just as members of Congress in the US are threatening to overturn Roe v Wade. As another nod to environmentalism, the Hollywood Foreign Press made the decision to serve an entirely vegan meal to the guests at the event.
Just as we were all winding down from the news that Joaquin Phoenix was saving the planet by wearing the same suit for the entire award season (something we can all relate to), the BAFTA nominations were announced on the 7th of January. Within hours the hashtag #BAFTAsSoWhite was trending all over social media. While the Golden Globes had clearly made some attempt, even simply a token one, to head in the direction of inclusion and diversity; it seemed that the BAFTAs had not learnt from the mistakes of their past. At the 2020 BAFTAs on February 2nd, all the main acting awards will be competed for by white talent, with the only category containing diverse nominations being the EE Rising Star Award. Cynthia Erivo missed out on an acting nomination, while Greta Gerwig was snubbed in the all-male Best Director category as well as in the Best Film category. Joanna Hogg’s acclaimed British film The Souvenir was also completely ignored.
After a week of criticism across social media, as well as from several high profile names in the industry, BAFTA announced that they would undergo a review to their voting system. Director Steve McQueen warned that the BAFTAs could risk becoming obsolete if they continued to fail to recognise diverse talent. In defence of the nominations, BAFTA deputy chairman Krishnendu Majumdar claimed that the lack of female nominees was “an industry-wide problem” which the awards show did not have the power to combat, a statement which was disputed by McQueen who pointed out that even films and actors with critical acclaim were not recognised.
Following the recent backlash against the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards and the creation of the 2015 #OscarsSoWhite hashtag; the Academy vowed to shake up the way its voting works. It announced plans to double the number of women and diverse nominees by 2020, through measures such as limiting the voting to members who have been active in filmmaking for the past 10 years. However, when the highly anticipated Academy Award nominations were revealed on the 13th of January, any last glimmers of hope for diversity were soon dashed. Cynthia Erivo was the sole person of colour in any of the acting categories, earning another Best Actress nomination for her role in Harriet. Despite the South-Korean film Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, becoming the first non-English language film in the Oscars history to win Best Picture, alias the top prize, it would not be inappropriate to keep the #OscarsSoWhite trend going for another year. The small step towards more diversity that Parasite’s success at this year’s Academy Awards represents was immediately bashed by Donald Trump who made some disparaging comments about the film during his rally. After implying that Parasite should not have been considered for an American movie prize because it is not in English, he added “What […] was that all about? We’ve got enough problems with South Korea with trade, on top of it they give them the best movie of the year?”
Despite nominations at the Golden Globes and huge critical acclaim, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell was completely ignored. Greta Gerwig picked up 6 nominations for Little Women but was once again locked out of the eternal boys club that is the Best Director category. Not only were the five nominees in this category all men, but none of their films managed to muster up even a Best Supporting Actress nomination, let alone Best Actress; a fact which is telling of the amount of female representation in these films. Natalie Portman paid tribute on the awards night with a Dior cape embroidered in gold with the names of the female directors who were shut out. Portman has previously openly called out the dismissal of female directors—in 2018, she noted the “all-male nominees” while presenting the Best Director at the Golden Globes. After being criticized by Rose McGowan for having worked with only two female directors in her career so far, one of them herself, Portman opened up about the difficulties that female-directed films are facing in the industry. Apart from being “incredibly hard to get made at studios, or to get independently financed”, their making often represents a great challenge to female directors as difficult working conditions like prejudice and hostility lead them to quit.
It is clear that questions need to be asked not only of the talent which is represented in the nominations but also the stories and narratives that are consistently celebrated by the Academy. Stephen King was widely criticised for his comment that “he would never consider diversity in matters of art”, and although he later amended this to acknowledge the issues faced in terms of getting in the door, it touched a nerve for many. The director Ava DuVernay pointed out that this was part of a greater issue, in that many in the industry felt that quality and diversity were mutually exclusive. April Reign, who created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, added that the Academy could no longer use the excuse of there not being enough diverse talent to nominate. There is a real possibility that these award ceremonies will become obsolete if they fail to reflect the changing landscape of modern filmmaking. There are millions of stories out there about people who aren’t male, and who aren’t white; but before they can be celebrated and nominated for awards, they should be told.
Photo by Walt Disney Television on Flickr
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