Now there’s always drama around the Oscars and BAFTAs, whether it’s La La Land/Moonlight-gate, or Olivia Coleman blowing a raspberry when told to start finishing up her speech (personally, I think it’s iconic). But these are pretty minor inconveniences given the very real and present problem with both Awards. Loathe or look forward to them, it’s hard to deny that diversity has become almost non-existent.
#OscarsSoWhite is a social media movement started in 2015 by April Reign and took off almost immediately, making the Academy double the number of women and people of color voters at the beginning of the following year. Theoretically, this should have resulted in more nominations for minority groups. And it sort of did – Moonlight won best picture over La La Land in 2017 (and rightly so), and Greta Gerwig became the fifth woman ever to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director for Lady Bird in 2018.
After this spike in diversity, everything fell disappointingly back to normal. #BaftasSoWhite started in 2017 when no BAME actors were nominated for leading-role categories, or best director – not even Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). Again, things somewhat improved the following year after massive backlash on social media, with Rungano Nyoni winning ‘Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer’ for I am Not a Witch. But this year sees a disappointing return to the BAFTAs and Oscars ignoring female/BAME talent, and the hashtags are trending again.
This year, 19 out of the 20 acting nominees for the Oscars are white. All the actors nominated at the BAFTAs are white. In a year that saw Lupita Nyong’o in Jordan Peele’s Us – the Academy (Oscars) only found room to nominate Scarlett Johansson. Twice. The issue isn’t that there is a lack of talent; the fault lies with the Academy’s voting system.
How are informed choices meant to be made, with so many films eligible during awards season, and no method to monitor what voters watch? Little Women’s nomination for Best Picture (at the Oscars) is more than justified, but how then is Greta Gerwig missing from the list of best directors when, historically, the two categories have been so interlinked? Where is Lorene Scafaria (writer/director) or Jennifer Lopez’s nomination for Hustlers – one of the best films about female diversity, unity and empowerment? Of course there are exceptions. Parasite has 6 nominations at the Oscars (including Best Picture), as well as 4 at the BAFTAs – yet none of its actors are nominated. For a film reaching 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and gaining rave reviews all-round, it seems pretty odd. There doesn’t need to be a slight ‘reshuffle’; the system needs to change.
So before we all go wallow in the disaster that is the Oscars and the BAFTAs, I want to look ahead to the diverse rising talent of 2020. French director Céline Sciamma’s beautiful Portrait of a Lady on Fire gets its wide release in theaters and Birds of Prey directed by Cathy Yan comes out this week. Awards season might have become political – the Eurovision of cinema, if you will – but we can only hope that these might be some of the films recognized next year. And in the words of Bong Joon Ho and translator Sharon Choi; “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”.