The Golden Globes, Oscar and BAFTA nominations have once more stirred a hornets nest with their overwhelmingly white and male bias. In the past there was something of an argument that it was not entirely fair to make the nominations themselves the villain, rather they merely reflected the white and male bias of the whole industry. Yet in the past 12 months alone there has been an incredible body of work to choose from; Jennifer Lopez at the height of her powers in Hustlers, Eddie Murphy on blistering form in Dolemite is My Name and Awkwafina in The Farewell. A mesmerising Lupita Nyong’o in Us delivered a performance every bit as nuanced and disturbing as Joaquin Phoenix in the Joker. Greta Gerwig directed the popular Little Women. Yet none of them have received an award nod in the Oscar nominations. Go back to last year and Marielle Heller for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Lynne Ramsay for You Were Never Really Here, Josie Rourke for Mary Queen of Scots, Debra Granik for Leave No Trace and Karyn Kusama for the phenomenal Destroyer (with cinematographer Julie Kirkwood) were likewise ignored or given just a passing nomination.
The 2020 BAFTA nominations are so white and male that it’s hard to read them without cringing, you could feel the backlash coming over the hill. The dearth of female directors and BAME talent was so glaring that Marc Samuelson, head honcho of BAFTA’s film committee, promised that there would be a “careful and detailed review within and outside the membership” in an interview with Variety. It’s doubly embarrassing when you look at the BAFTA web page, Female and BAME actors and directors are in virtually every picture, yet that inclusivity doesn’t seem to extend to the awards. So are they merely going through the PR motions? With #BAFTAsSoWhite trending across social media they certainly need to do something.
In 2016 the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pledged to double their number of female and minority voters by 2020. They drafted in 842 new voters in 2019 achieve the aim, and to be sure their 2020 nominations are slightly better than BAFTA on the diversity front, but not a lot. The old argument that there’s not a significant enough body of work from people who are not white blokes does not hold water any more. We are at a point where awards, virtually across the board, are not reflecting the reality of the marketplace.
Another issue is the way stories are being told, look at the nominated films and the overwhelming majority are told from a white male perspective. It would be nice to see female characters portrayed as being nuanced and complex. Taking just the cinematography nominations by both academies, we have 1917, The Irishman, Joker and The Lighthouse in both lists, just diverging on Le Mans ’66 (Ford vs Ferrari) in the BAFTAs and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in the Oscars. The few female characters in each of these films feel like plot devices to move the story forward, rather than three dimensional characters. These are overwhelmingly male stories, told from a male perspective. They are all still utterly fantastic films mind you.
Maybe it is time that the nominating processes were overhauled. It’s been noted that the categories chosen by peer groups, such as documentaries, were more inclusive. Maybe the chapter voting system is flawed, maybe it’s hard for voters to view all eligible movies, maybe it’s skewed towards established talent. Whatever it is, they are not reflecting the vibrancy of the multicultural country that we live in.
History has been made this year in a far more palatable form at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, with Parasite becoming the first foreign-language film ever to win their marquee film category, the closest one it has to a Best Picture competition.