With award season once again upon us, BAFTA has now proposed new sanctions to be introduced in 2019 to encourage more representation in film. Films that prove to be non-inclusive of at least two out of four categories of underrepresented groups (people of colour, people with disabilities, LGBTQA+, and women) will be ineligible for nomination for the categories of ‘outstanding British film’ and ‘outstanding debut by a British writer, director, or producer.’
Our writers go head to head debating whether this kind of positive discrimination could be effective or not.
How positive discrimination could have a negative impact
Actresses like Viola Davies have often raised their voices against the few opportunities black women were offered. Many decried the choice of Scarlett Johansson to play the main character of the manga-based movie Ghost in the Shell, since this character is originally Asian and the production was accused of “white-washing”. In 2016, only the EE Rising Star Award was attributed to a black actor, John Boyega. It is undeniable that the film industry today lacks of diversity.
From 2019, films put forward must conform to the BFI’s Diversity Standards, established in 2014 to increase participation and representation of minorities and socially disadvantaged in British film. However, if I pay tribute to this action, I am not sure positive discrimination is the best solution to fight against the lack of diversity in the film industry.
If we want to get rid of the racial stereotypes we are often confronted with, we cannot adopt policies that are reducing even more actors to their race, gender and disability
To the contrary, it could have an inverse effect and discriminate even more minorities. My problem with positive discrimination is that you reduce the actor/actress to their race, gender or sexuality. It is not only the talent that is taken into account; you are selecting them partly because they are Asian, Latino or Black. A positive discrimination is still discrimination, and it is paradoxical to use discrimination to fight discrimination. Positive discrimination will not help in erasing race discrimination in the film industry, it will only increase the boundaries between white and non-white actors. It can have an adverse effect, and undermine actors’ success with thoughts that it is only because they are Latino, Black or Asian that they were chosen for this part.
Yes, more opportunities need to be given to minority ethnic groups, disabled people, women and LGBT. However, it cannot be by creating Black, Asian or Latino roles purely for the sake of filling quotas. If we want to get rid of the racial stereotypes we are often confronted with in the cinema (the Arab terrorist, the sassy black woman, the list of examples is endless), we cannot adopt policies that are reducing even more actors to their race, gender and disability.
Furthermore, I consider the new BAFTA regulation as an obstacle to artistic freedom. It is saddening to notice that movies like 12 Angry Men, a masterpiece, would not be able to receive an award just because it features twelve white men. The movie tells the story of a jury that has to deliberate about the guilt or acquittal of the defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. Choosing socio-economically similar men, the director Sidney Lumet excluded the possibility that one juror declares the defendant not guilty with empathy because they both have a similar background, race, ethnicity etc. — the defendant is an 18-year-old Hispanic boy from a slum. Nevertheless, this choice would probably be decried today.
As directors have the right to cast actors of diverse race, background, sexuality, they should also have the right to cast actors from only one race, background or sexuality if the plot narrative requires it.
Positive discrimination is definitely a step in the right direction
Last year proved to be the final straw in the ‘lack of diversity’ debate for global film audiences. Being the second consecutive year that no actors of colour received a nomination, it is unsurprising the trend #OscarsSoWhite received such high publicity, with previous Oscar winners showing support through boycotts of the prestigious awards ceremony.
While some may consider BAFTA’s move radical and limiting creativity, others have argued this is simply not enough in the steps towards true diversity. Undoubtedly it raises questions of how vague these sanctions are, and whether they will create a true difference.
The main argument in opposition is that these new sanctions will limit artistic freedom, going against the vision of the writers and directors involved. But aside from majorly extreme cases (perhaps only having one cast member may limit the consideration of two underrepresented groups), this argument is outstandingly weak. With the limitations on what film can do slowly diminishing, it does seem slightly absurd that we can represent all manners of mythical creatures, and yet not accurately reflect the diversity within our own society without endless campaign.
One would hope these new sanctions and such boycotts will remind filmmakers that minority communities do in fact exist, and the lack of representation is now broaching insult
As a film fan the most frustrating aspect of this proposal is that it had to be proposed in the first place. How, when approaching the year 2017, is this ‘diversity debate’ possibly still on the table? Following the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, led by a woman and a black man, there surely cannot be many defences left for having a lack of diversity within film.
And yet it remains that out of 330 Academy awards received for acting, only 15 have been awarded to people of colour. And while #OscarsSoWhite was the main story from last year, it is also worth noting that performer Anhoni, the second transgendered person to ever be nominated for an Oscar, also boycotted the ceremony following being left off the list of performers for her original song, the category in which she was nominated. One would hope these new sanctions and such boycotts will remind filmmakers that minority communities do in fact exist, and the lack of representation is now broaching insult.
Even if BAFTA’s new proposal is limiting or simply not good enough, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Encouraging diversity within such prestigious awards ceremonies will hopefully begin to reflect in films themselves, providing more representation and bringing new talent to our screens. It also worth hoping that following the recent scrutiny, the Academy Awards will follow in BAFTA’s footsteps in encouraging diversity. One can only hope this is enough to ensure Will Smith’s attendance this year.