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Fresh Concerns Raised Over Whether Film Award Nominations Lack Diversity

We may only be halfway through January but this year’s film award season is already underway with the Golden Globe Ceremony taking place on the 6th of January, alongside the release of this year’s prestigious BAFTA nominations in preparation for the ceremony on the 2nd of February at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Whilst this year’s Golden Globes, which was the 77th annual ceremony, saw Nora “Awkwafina” Lum as the first woman of Asian descent to win best actress in a motion picture in a comedy or musical for her role in “The Farewell” and Meryl Streep with record-breaking 34 nominations at the awards over her illustrious career, questions have been raised over whether the film industry is still not actively embracing diversity. The majority of recipients at the Golden Globes 2020 were white with Awkwafina and Ramy Youseff, winner of the best performance by an actor in a television series, the only two people of color to receive acting awards.

Similarly, there has been much controversy over the recently released BAFTA (73rd British Academy Film Award) nominations which have been accused of being exclusionary to both female and black actors due to the shortlist being all white and with no female directors being nominated. “Joker” starring Joaquin Phoenix received the most nominations, totaling 11, with “The Irishman” and “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood” not far behind with 10 nominations each.

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In response to the publication of the nomination shortlist, “#BAFTAsSoWhite” began to trend on Twitter. Contentious points were Margot Robbie’s double nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for both “Bombshell” and “Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood” and Cynthia Erivo’s lack of nomination for her role in “Harriet” despite receiving two Golden Globe nominations. It was reported in Variety that despite her lack of nomination, she was asked to perform at the awards by the British Academy, which she turned down.

This is not the first year in which concerns have been raised over the diversity of award nomination shortlists; this is the seventh year in a row in which no female directors have been nominated for a BAFTA.

Chief Executive of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Amanda Berry remarked that she is “disappointed” over the lack of diversity within the nomination list and added “that is not to take anything away from the people who have been nominated”. Nominations for the major categories are chosen through a vote by more than 6,000 BAFTA members from across the globe but in light of the diversity backlash they are planning to review the process.

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Despite the lack of diversity within the nominations themselves, actors have previously used their acceptance speeches or the ceremony as platforms to make political statements about this and similar matters. At this year’s Golden Globe ceremony Michelle Williams encouraged women to participate in civil society and politics saying “don’t forget we are the largest voting body in this country. Let’s make it look more like us,” and also advocating for a women’s right to choose. Similarly, there has been some improvement in the representation of women on the big screen with 40% of 2019’s highest-grossing US movies having women in a leading role, increasing by 9%, however, prominent film critic Dr. Rebecca Harrison qualified this telling the BBC;

“It’s all well and good saying, ‘OK women were protagonists in 40% of the films’, but we don’t really know what their role was in those films without looking at the kind of qualitative textual analysis that goes on, beyond just the numbers. So were these women protagonists in films being represented in a positive way? Did they die at the end? Were they the survivors of some kind of horrific sexual abuse on screen? Were they given lots of dialogue?”

A lack of diversity has been reported across the film industry as a whole indicating that much wider initiatives may be required to encourage women and underrepresented groups to not only participate, but to thrive. A report for the British Film Institute by the Work Foundation in 2017 found that only 3% of those working in production come from a minority ethnic background despite this group making up 12.5% of the population in the UK nationally.

This highlights that the issue of diversity within the film industry is wider than award nominations alone. The Work Foundation report includes a number of barriers highlighted during their research including aspirational barriers (lack of role models), knowledge barriers and financial barriers to name a few. Thereby increasing the importance of the awards bodies recognizing and celebrating the achievements of a variety of individuals/groups to provide these accessible and inspiring role models. Deputy Chairman of BAFTA Krishnendu Majumdar has highlighted this calling the lack of female directors an “industry-wide problem” saying they were “fiercely doing something about it”, as reported by the BBC.