The push for diversity at the 2021 BAFTAs

Pic: BAFTA

Held annually, the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTAs) celebrates the art of motion picture entertainment, recognising creatives for their craft and dedication to the industry. But behind the glamour, the high-brow event has not been without the controversial headline or two, and stepping into the ceremony on the Saturday 10 April this year, it has a number of expectations to uphold.

Reactions from the public after the 2020 event were largely negative, agreeably so, given that nominations for categories ranging from acting, directing to editing saw an utter lack of people of colour and gender balance.

All twenty major acting nominations last year went to white actors, while all directorial nominees were male. And for the seventh year in a row, not a single female director has been awarded, let alone considered for nomination as Best Director. These are frustrating figures, to say the least.

As the 2021 nomination list was unveiled, we saw a significantly more representative lineup. Amongst the twenty-four acting nominees, sixteen are performers of ethnic minority groups, namely Nigerian-British actress Wunmi Mosaku for her role in ‘His House’, and South Korean actress Youn Yuh Jung for her supporting role in the non-English film ‘Minari’. Four women were nominated for directorial awards, including Chinese director Chloé Zhao for ‘Nomadland’, together with Emerald Fennell for her original screenplay ‘Promising Young Woman’.

It would appear that this year’s program is making positive efforts towards equal representation, but the gruelling pace it’s taken to get to this position is an indication of a wider issue: the systematic racial and gender biases of the entertainment avant-garde.

It was only two years ago that the BAFTAs became the first major awards body to introduce an independent ‘diversity and inclusion criteria’. Meanwhile, they and other British associations in the entertainment sector have supposedly been regulated by the British Film Institute (BFI) diversity standards since 2016 to tackle the underrepresentation of minority groups.

Are we working hard enough as an industry to combat systemic racial and gender inequality; if it’s taken seventy-four years for a single institution to streamline itself to match the onward-looking attitudes of the twenty-first century?

These entertainment establishments, whether it be the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes or the Oscars, claim to celebrate the arts, but fail to represent a full palette of artists. The system rewards the privileged and keeps them there, with no room to spare for the world’s assortment of aspirers and dreamers. Is it not time we reassess our degrees of ‘inclusivity’ and actually commit to sustainable action against ‘exclusivity’?

Only time will tell.

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