A nomination at the BAFTAs is hailed as one of the ultimate symbols of success an actor, director or film professional can attain. It is a medal of sheer talent and brilliance in film.
Am I surprised that this year diversity was an after-thought again? No.
What I am livid about is the fake and disingenuous attitude to something that should not be possible in today’s climate. How could they get it so wrong?
It was so shameful that even Joaquin Pheonix used his best actor acceptance speech at last night’s ceremony to call out the systematic racism within the industry, admitting that he too had been part of the problem.
This year saw BAME actresses Awkwafina, Jennifer Lopez, Cynthia Erivo and Lupita Nyong’o blow us away with their compelling performances.
Whilst I’m sure a troll somewhere is gearing up to crawl out of the shadows and holler ‘Stop making everything about race!’, the truth is, it is.
When BAME actors and actresses stop being overlooked in favour of their white counterparts, some of whose performances were mediocre in comparison, then sure – we will stop making it about race.
Nominations are intentional, debated and considered, which means the omission of the black and ethnic minority community in categories that are meant to represent the best of the film word is intentional.
Frankly, I am over the constant slap in the face, the denial of what could be a beautiful representation of diverse and excellent talent.
Director Rapman faced clear racial bias when his film Blue Story was pulled from Vue cinemas late last year (the ban was later reversed) when violence erupted between youths. Despite producing impressive results, Rapman had no recognition at this year’s BAFTAs, nor did director Melina Matsoukas for the brilliant Queen & Slim.
Rapman’s experience isn’t an uncommon, though. As a BAME individual in the creative industry, I have faced several instances where I have been sidelined by racial bias for someone less talented.
I’ve felt glaring eyes when I have turned up to auditions only to be asked who I am, because my European name did not match my appearance.
The most awful part of these microaggression is how insidious and subtle they are. They are just as hope-crushing as overt racist abuse and made worse when those without the collective experience dismiss and deny they happen.
If I had a pound for every time I heard ‘but that’s not really racist’, I would be a millionaire – or Meghan Markle.
Right now, the film industry feels like an environment that will not allow black actors and actresses to flourish. There is a consistent failure to value their performances and them in turn.
BAME film professionals have to exceed the realms of excellence just to be noticed, whereas actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Margot Robbie can deliver pretty average performances and still be rewarded with double nominations.
Given that not one person of colour was nominated in any of the acting categories, this year’s BAFTAs feel just short of a YouTube prank.
It is a profession that is uniquely accessible to the wealthy and the well connected unless you are prepared to play the stereotypical roles that the industry boxes BAME actors in. There’s a multitude of choice. You can be the ‘London gangster’ who misuses the word ‘bruv’ and ‘innit’; the ‘angry black woman’ who is independent and doesn’t need a man, or if you’re feeling saucy, perhaps the slave or maid.
BAFTAs inclusion statement claims that ‘Diversity and inclusion are incredibly important to BAFTA.’ So why do only three per cent of those employed in film describe themselves as BAME?
If this was truly the case, it would be reflected in the nomination panel where only 18 per cent of positions are held by BAME voters and more than we would have seen diversity in every award category instead of only one: tellingly, the public-voted EE Rising Star, which was won by Michael Ward and also included Kelvin Harrison Jr and Awkwafina.
Diversity has to be a collective and intentional effort. I disagree with some of the calls for the BAFTAs to be cancelled, although maybe a boycott is what’s needed to actually spark some real change.
More needs to be done to hold award shows accountable. The actors and actresses that benefit from the lack of diversity should be first in line to do so.
I try to remain hopeful that diversity in film will improve and do better by ethnic minorities – but then I had that hope last year, and the year before that. Maybe now Joaquin has said that they all need to do better, they will. But I won’t hold my breath.
The film industry has always been somewhat like the Hunger Games – an incredibly difficult feat to survive. Add being part of a minority community into the mix, and it becomes Mission Impossible.
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