It appears that BAFTA is perpetuating old stereotypes in asking Harriet star Cynthia Erivo to sing at the awards ceremony while neglecting to nominate her and other actors of color for prominent categories.
As reported by Variety, when Erivo was asked to perform at the upcoming BAFTAs in December, her representation agreed to get back with the awarding body after the nominations were released. Once the nominations were out, which feature only white nominees, the BAFTAs reached out again. This time Erivo’s camp declined the offer as she wasn’t nominated for Best Actress, despite being an awards season frontrunner for her performance in Harriet.
Cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson told Variety that Erivo’s snub harkens back to the days when Hollywood–and white society at large–would mine Black people and people of color for their talents without giving them the proper recognition, calling the move by the BAFTAs “pretty shameful.”
“People of color are still invisible. They can do the heavy lifting, they can do the toting, they can do the tremendous acting, but they can’t be recognized for their craft,” he said. “We [the BAFTAs] want you to sing because you people can really sing. That’s the reinforcement of the ‘Mammy’ stereotype if ever we had one, a kind of artistic ‘Mammy’–‘Oh you’re not good enough to be nominated for the tremendous acting that you do, but we want you to nonetheless sing for us, to perform for us. We won’t recognize you for your talent, your gift, for your superior achievement, but we will exploit your undeniable genius.’ That’s an unfortunate index of the racial insensitivity that prevails in European and American culture.”
Erivo’s snub is just one of many snubs for performances by people of color. Queen & Slim‘s Daniel Kaluuya, Us‘ Lupita Nyong’o, The Farewell‘s Awkwafina, Clemency‘s Alfre Woodard, Hustlers‘ Jennifer Lopez and Pain and Glory‘s Antonio Banderas were all looked over by the awarding body. Instead, the organization nominated Margot Robbie twice for her roles in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Bombshell. Robbie’s nomination heads a Best Actress category full of white actresses, including Marriage Story‘s Scarlett Johansson, Bombshell‘s Charlize Theron, Little Women‘s Saoirse Ronan and Judy‘s Renee Zellweger.
There are also no female filmmakers nominated. The nominees include Todd Phillips (Joker), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Sam Mendes (1917). The only male of color nominated is Bong Joon-ho for Parasite.
People outside of the BAFTAs aren’t the only ones upset by the nominations. People within BAFTA have also expressed disappointment.
Marc Samuelson, chair of the BAFTAs film committee, called the nomination list a “frustration.”
“Infuriating lack of diversity in the acting noms,” he said. “It’s just a frustration that the industry is not moving as fast as certainly the whole BAFTA team would like it to be.”
BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry also released a statement about the nominations, saying, “The lack of diversity in today’s nominations is hugely disappointing to see. Our year-round activity has many strands that focus on diversity. It’s clear there is much more to be done and we plan to double down on our efforts to affect real change and to continue to support and encourage the industry on the urgency of doing so much more.”
The statements ring as confusing, since BAFTA members are supposed to be in charge of nominating actors and creatives, or so one would assume. Equally confusing is that the statements seem to deflect blame onto the filmmaking industry for not making diverse films, when in fact in this case, it’s the fault of the BAFTAs for not nominating the films that featured the diverse talent they’re calling for.
For people of color, Black people in particular, this type of denial of talent except when exploitable has been seen and felt before. We wrote about the lack of recognition for Black talent after the 2019 Golden Globe nominations. “Not only are Black actors underrepresented in a majority of the categories, but the films with the most recognition are films that could be argued as ones that do not interrogate whiteness or disrupt the power structure of whiteness when addressing race relations.”
Something similar can be applied to the films nominated in a majority of the categories, possibly save for Parasite, which analyzes classism in Korean culture. The films that are nominated either do the bare minimum of addressing diverse race and gender topics (i.e. Bombshell) or avoid the conversation.
As the piece continues, “What we want isn’t a condescending quick fix to a longstanding issue. We also don’t want to see the same films rewarded over and over again. What we want is for Black actors to be seen as more than just a demographic. We also want to see films about our multifaceted, poetic and human experiences–and the filmmakers who make them–get the recognition they deserve.”
Photo: Getty Images
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