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What do this year’s BAFTAs say about diversity in film?

ByMolly McCracken

Feb 17, 2018

It seems that any conversation about the film industry today is surrounded by talk of gender. Whether it’s hushed accusatory rumours or the bold protest of the individuals confronting their attackers, it seems filmmakers have never been more aware of the exploitation rampant in the industry.

There’s incredible optimism in this moment – this new period of consciousness has the potential to reshape a fairer Hollywood, but only if it continues to grow. You might remember how, only two years ago, there was an outpouring of criticism against the lack of diversity in film and even more so in the awards circuit, best exemplified by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. The movement did have its impacts: the Academy has attempted to diversify its members, and in 2017 there were a record number of non-white nominees across acting and directing categories. The hashtag has all but disappeared from the mainstream and there is the danger that this momentum will slow down, but it does seem that studios and awards bodies are increasingly aware of the need to recognise and support minorities.

So, what about our side of the pond? With the BAFTAs taking place this Sunday, a spotlight is once again shone upon the film industry and the growing push for the rights of both its female and minority workers. Following the example of the Golden Globes last month, many actresses are expected to wear black, showing solidarity with the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment. The ceremony will also no doubt include statements from presenters and winners alike, using their fame to raise awareness further. While awareness is vital in pushing for reform, more tangible change can be felt when the industry recognises non-white, LGBT, and non-male filmmakers. By championing more diverse creators both on and off the screen, we can skew the lens towards a more representative framework that reflects the diverse societies we live in.

That’s why the nominations are so important – they reflect both the realities and the aspirations of the industry. This year’s BAFTAs have recognised the success of racially themed films such as Raoul Peck’s documentary I Am Not Your Negro and Jordan Peele’s genre-bending Get Out. Likewise, both God’s Own Country and Luca Guadagnino’s drama Call Me By Your Name showcase support for LGBT filmmakers and stories. Guillermo del Toro’s anti-xenophobic allegory The Shape of Water dominates nominations, and showcases a strong female lead as also seen in nominees Elle, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Lady Bird.

At the same time, however, the World War Two films Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are also highly nominated this year. Though a technical feat, Dunkirk’s cast noticeably white-washes the reality of Britain’s military history. Meanwhile, Darkest Hour showcases a powerful performance by lead actor Gary Oldman, but seems like classic awards fare that celebrates national pride through Winston Churchill, a man who also, problematically, championed the British Empire.

Looking at this year’s BAFTA nominees, and the politicisation of the ceremony, one might be inclined to think that the film industry is righting its wrongs. But there is always room for progress – Get Out and Lady Bird, for example, are noticeable snubs preventing a black or female Best Director in a category that has always been overwhelmingly filled by white men. Similarly, solidarity for Time’s Up will mean little if the systemic exploitation is not challenged legally and politically. What would truly show progress would be black, LGBT, and female filmmakers being recognised for films that are not just about civil rights, but for any of the unlimited plots for which non-minority filmmakers are routinely celebrated. While the past few years have been a move in the right direction, only then will the film industry be able to represent its workers and audiences more accurately, and shape a more equal business and culture.

Image: Chloe (chloe004) via Flickr

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