BAFTA caught up in diversity row once again - but is it really that surprising?
Following the announcement of this year's BAFTA nominations earlier morning, there was an immediate backlash online about the stark lack of diversity shown across the board, with no actors of colour nominated in the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, and no women featured in the Best Director category.
Yet given the current lack of diversity within BAFTA and the UK film industry as a whole, should we really be surprised at the nominations? Would people's reactions be the same if women and actors and directors of colour were given what usually amounts to little more than token nods in these award shows?
This is a systemic issue within the UK film industry that goes way beyond believing industry nominations hold the answer. According to a report published by Directors UK, only 3.5% of directors in the TV and film community are from a BAME background. At the last count, only 13.6% of film directors in the UK are women. It's obvious that until more women and people of colour are working in positions of power within the industry we will only continue to see the same results for the foreseeable future.
BAFTA offer the perfect example, despite their objections to the contrary. Analysis carried out by business psychology firm Pearn Kandola in 2018 revealed that 94% of all BAFTA film award nominees had been white up until 2018. 92% of nominees for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress were also white. The report highlighted that only five BAME males have ever been nominated for the Best Leading Actor award, and just six BAME females for Best Leading Actress. The figures speak for themselves.
In the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite boycott, BAFTA also faced similar accusations ahead of their 2016 film award show, with the Creatives of Colour network protesting outside of the ceremony and launching #BaftaBlackout on social media.
Facing up to the reaction to their nomination announcement today, BAFTA responded with a rather stunning - but somewhat expected - lack of self-awareness. Marc Samuelson, chair of BAFTA’s film committee said there was an “Infuriating lack of diversity in the acting noms. It’s just a frustration that the industry is not moving as fast as certainly the whole BAFTA team would like it to be.”
Clearly Mr Samuelson isn't aware of the key role his organisation plays in the UK film industry, and is oblivious to the clear lack of diversity within BAFTA itself. A membership survey in 2016 revealed that 41% were female and 13% from a BAME background, with a median age of 52. A year later BAFTA announced this had changed to 43% and 18% respectively, with a median age of 44. More up-to-date figures have yet to be made available. It only requires a quick look at these numbers to understand why there is little or no change to the nominations each year.
Samuelson went on to say: "BAFTA can’t tell the studios and the production companies who they should hire and whose stories should get told. All BAFTA can do is try to lead and push and it’ll have to carry on pushing.” In that respect, Samuelson is correct, but you have to question how hard his organisation is pushing to modernise the industry when the imbalance amongst his own members is so apparent.
It's no mystery why so much of the best BAME talent from these shores head over to America in search of meaningful work. The industry's obsession with period costume dramas plays to the image still projected around the world of the UK being an antiquated society where men bow upon entering a room and women courtesy in return. Production companies and producers lazily play up to the belief that the only sure-fire way to ensure box office success is to continually perpetrate the age-old tourist vision of the UK.
The myth that BAME stories do not make money also continues to be upheld. Yet the box office success of Rapman's Blue Story demonstrated once again the appetite amongst cinema goers to see and hear new perspectives (when it wasn't outrageously being banned by cinemas), while representation of British Asians is restricted to the occasional release of films like Gurinder Chadha's Blinded By The Light.
Of course, no one knows for sure what award screeners BAFTA members have actually watched, or if they simply submit nominations based on films that are generating the most 'buzz' around this time of year. On paper, the answer is simple: by creating a more diverse film industry in the UK you increase the chances of a broader range of talent being celebrated during award season. For that to happen it requires the industry to move beyond decades of racism and unconscious bias, although if the current state of UK society is anything to go by, it looks like we still have quite a long way to go.