Award Shows- A Diversity Problem

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They are some of the most glamourous events of the year. Actors, actresses, directors, cinematographers, costume designers and creators gather in a fancy setting, wearing beautiful dresses, sipping on champagne and celebrating each other’s work in film and TV over the last year. This time last year the same thing was happening, something we look back on now as some of the last days we were able to be in big groups, sit in theatres and hug each other. This year, with the evident delays and the obvious changes taking place, the award ceremonies are looking very different. The Golden Globes have been the first to adapt to an online ceremony, with the actual in- person audience made up of key -workers on socially distanced tables. The stars sat at home, logged into a Zoom call; he best part about it for us watching from home definitely being able to judge their homes and interior design. Some surrounded by family members, some sat on their own (I felt sorry for those! A little anticlimactic perhaps?) But whilst all these adaptations were being made to make it possible for an award ceremony to go ahead during a pandemic, a much more insidious sickness was evident, and has been evident since the beginning of this tradition. The lack of diversity and the racism in the industry which is highlighted every year at these glitzy events.

The nominees being made up of predominately white actresses, actors and directors, with some categories being entirely white. This is nothing new, each year with each ceremony it is a recurring theme with outcries of how lacking in diversity the categories are. Disappointed but not surprised is the general feel each time the nominees are released and all white categories have been able to pass. This is obviously the result of a systematic racism that seeps into all industries, workplaces and careers. Who is and isn’t getting a seat at the table? With not one single black person in the HFPA, the answer to that question is clear. And so in lies the root of the problem. But how do they keep on getting away with this? It’s the same every year and as soon as we see a little glimpse of hope for progress, we then seem to take huge steps backwards in the opposite direction.

However, I cannot speak to this problem without highlighting some of the incredible performances and wins of black actors and actresses this year, who will have worked a hundred times harder than their white peers to have the recognition they deserve. This year at the Golden Globes, Andrea Day won Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for her role in  “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday,”. With this win she became the first black woman to win the award in 35 years, and the second black woman to win at all after Whoopi Goldberg in 1986. This highlights the deeply rooted racism held within the structures of the awards that are given. The winner of the Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama was Chadwick Boseman for his role, and wonderful performance, in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. This win had an extra tragedy to it as his widow collected the award on her dearly departed husband’s behalf, making his win and this moment even more poignant and moving.

Two black performers winning Best Actress and Actor seems the progress needed is being made. And their victories should be celebrated. Daniel Kaluuya also celebrates his win of Best Supporting Actor. John Boyega won Best Supporting Actor – Television. And unlike many previous years, Chloe Zhao won Best Director of a Motion Picture, with three women nominated in the category, for the first time since Ava DuVernay’s nomination in 2015.

But the problem pertains as the categories continue; Best Supporting Actress nominees, Best Actor and Best Actress for Television Motion Picture, Best Television Actor and Actress for Drama Series and Best Supporting Actress Television were all white.

In their opening speech, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler poked fun at the fact that the HFPA is so white and male, and at a lot of the films and series that were nominated, with Poehler calling them ‘a lot of flashy garbage’, before they highlighted the black actors and black-led projects that were being overlooked. Jane Fonda similarly called for a change, questioning which stories we respect and elevate and which we tune out, pointing out who gets to decide not only who is awarded, but what gets made and who gets hired in the first place. This emphasises the award seasons as the tip of the iceberg that reflects the inner workings of the industry. Though Black, Asian and minority-led work is getting made, it’s not getting recognised to the same level. For example, it was extremely disappointing and frustrating to see the powerful and complex work of Michaela Coel, who wrote, directed and starred in ‘I May Destroy You’, an original series depicting her own trauma and offering a nuanced conversation surrounding sexual assault, go unnoticed.

Sterling K. Brown, whilst presenting an award with This Is Us co-star Susan Kelechi Watson, also noted the imbedded racism, purposely stating ‘It is great to be black at the Golden Globes,’ before correcting himself ‘back at the Golden Globes.’

This is nothing we haven’t seen before. On the 15th January 2015, the Oscars announced their all white nominees, leading April Reign to start #oscarssowhite. Two consecutive years of Oscars nominees being all white led Reign to state, ‘one time you could call a fluke, two times feels like a pattern.’ (The New York Times) With the hashtag trending and gaining notable traction, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of the academy 2013- 2017, criticised and questioned the Academy; ‘The statistics showed that our membership was 94 percent white and 77 percent male. People would say to me that it wasn’t on purpose, and I would ask them: Are you sure?’ (The New York Times).

By 2019, a change felt palpable. It was obvious there was a want in audiences for diversity in the movie-going experience. ‘Get Out’, ‘Black Panther’, ‘Coco’ and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ were films that became box office hits, and that year this was actually represented in the Oscars with a record of 13 winner’s of colour. This proved there is a desire for a multitude of a diverse range of different stories, experiences and perspectives. The data is there. And for once, so was the recognition of that.

That year Spike Lee recognised the change thanks to the work made by two black women: ‘If it were not for April Reign’s hashtag and Cheryl Boone Isaacs being president — the work of two sisters — I would not have an Oscar.’ (The New York Times)

So by 2020 there was hope in the air. But it didn’t look like much progress had truly been made. Just as having Obama as President didn’t solve the deep-rooted racism in the US, and the world, one year of success for black artists didn’t solve the issue present for some many years before. Only one performer of colour, Cynthia Erivo of “Harriet”, was nominated and prominent films of the year with female directors were ignored such as Greta Gerwig of “Little Women,” Lorene Scafaria of “Hustlers” and Lulu Wang of “The Farewell,”. And we saw this pattern again with the Golden Globes this year.

The Oscars will be announcing their nomination on 15th March so it remains to be seen if they have committed to any progress, especially after the rallying call of #BlackLivesMatter this summer and a demand for more representation and diversity on our screens. We will see if the demand for change is met with any significant progress made. But there is a certain sense that if these award ceremonies don’t get it right, if they continue the way they have, disappointing and frustrating audiences, they will be left behind in a culture that must move forward and recognise the work, creativity and talent of all.

By Maya Nardoni


The Crow’s Nest is a Greenwich Students’ Union Student Media channel. The views expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of GSU, its trustees, employees, officers or the University of Greenwich.

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