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Is Awards Season Becoming More Diverse?

Updated: May 10, 2023

By Delphine Lievens (She/ They)

When this year’s BAFTA longlists were released, many had hoped to see Sarah Polley and her film Women Talking among the nominees. However, in a deeply ironic move, the film had been long-listed for just one award – a Supporting Actor nod for male cast member

Ben Wishaw. 

To those who follow the ebbs and flows of awards season year after year, this sort of irony is to be expected. When tracking the diversity across awards nominees there is never a straight line of improvement, more of a case of one step forward and two steps back, with women and POC (people of colour) continually missing out to their white, male counterparts. After all, following Moonlight’s landmark Best Picture win, two years later the same award was given to Green Book. The films share an actor in the form of the incredible Mahershala Ali, but that is where the similarities end, with one film giving a far more authentic representation of Black lives in America than the other. 

Women Talking was not the only ‘snub’ of this year’s awards season. The most prominent headline has been Andrea Riseborough’s surprise Best Actress nomination at the Oscars, a move that many think has pushed both Viola Davis (for Wakanda Forever) and Danielle Deadwyler (for Till) out of contention. There are three POC in the ‘Supporting’ categories, although Dolly De Leon whom many hoped would receive a nomination for Triangle of Sadness is absent. Frequently across the Oscars and BAFTAs, POC are under-represented in the Best Actor and Actress categories, and only allowed to reach the heights of the ‘Supporting’ category instead. A WOC (woman of colour) hasn’t won a Lead Actress Oscar since Halle Berry’s landmark win over 20 years ago and at the BAFTAs no WOC has ever taken home the Best Actress award. However, the BAFTAs does feature both Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler as nominees in this year’s category, alongside Michelle Yeoh. 

As noted, the Supporting Actress categories often fare better, with half of the winners of the Oscars category in the past 10 years being WOC: Ariana DeBose, Youn-Yuh Jung, Regina King, Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o. Amongst the Best Supporting Actors, Mahershela Ali won Best Supporting Actor twice, the first Black Muslim man to take home the award. He joined Daniel Kaluuya as the only POC winners in the past 10 years. Will Smith was the only POC to take home the Lead Actor win. 

At the BAFTAs, Hong Chau and Dolly De Leon both received nods in the Supporting category this year, although in a step down from the diversity shown across the pond, only three WOC have taken home the award in the past 10 years. Actors fared slightly better than at the Oscars, Barkhad Abdi joins Daniel Kaluuya and Mahershali Ali as the only POC to have won the Best Supporting Actor award in the past 10 years, whilst Chiwitel Ejiofor and Will Smith are the only POC winners of the Best Actor category. 

As is often the case, at this year’s Oscars women were also noticeably absent from the Best Director category, despite Women Talking receiving a nod for Best Picture. With Best Director featuring only 5 nominees, and Best Picture allowing up to 10, female directors are almost always the ones who drop from the list. Only 2 women have won the Best Director award at the Oscars in the past 10 years, at the two most recent ceremonies where Jane Campion and Chloe Zhao were winners. Yet, in a demonstration of the “one step forward, two steps back” approach to diversity, this year we’re back to an all male field of nominees. 

This is not a direct result of a lack of potential nominees either. In a history-making move, BAFTA has nominated Gina Prince Bythewood in their Best Director category this year for her film The Woman King, the first WOC to ever receive a nomination. Until 2020, there was a noticeable absence of women nominated in this category at all, with only Kathryn Bigelow and Lynne Ramsay nominated in the years between 2010-2020. With 3 female nominees at the 2021 awards and one woman in the category both this year and last year, the BAFTAs are showing some progress, albeit again inconsistent. Whilst female directors are totally absent from the Best Film nominations at this year’s BAFTAs, there are 3 represented in the nominations for the Outstanding British film category: Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun, Sally El Hosaini’s The Swimmers and Sophie Hyde’s Good Luck to You Leo Grande. 

The past 10 years have also seen 3 POC winners of Best Director at the Oscars, but intriguingly, they all have East Asian heritage: Chloe Zhao, Bong Joon Ho and Ang Lee. Chloe Zhao was of course the first ever WOC to win in 2021 for Nomadland, in the same year she made history as the first ever WOC nominee in the category too. However, East Asians are often incredibly under-represented across the acting categories, receiving a much needed boost this year thanks to the inclusion of Everything Everywhere All At Once among the nominees. Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu both received nominations in the Supporting categories, whilst Michelle Yeoh was another history maker, the first ever East Asian actress to be nominated in the Best Actress category. At the BAFTAs, Chloe Zhao is the first and only WOC and POC to have received a Best Director win. 

The Oscars have been vocal about the changes to their voting body in recent years. In 2016, the voting body was 92% white, and 75% male. Since then, they have worked to invite new members to redress this balance. In 2021, 46% were female and 39% came from ethnic minority backgrounds. In addition they have announced guidelines that mean that films will need to meet new diversity standards to be nominated for the Best Picture category from 2024 onwards.

Meanwhile BAFTA CEO Jane Milichip has defended the diversity of the 2023 nominations stating it’s ‘a great year for diversity and breadth of nominations’, pointing to the 40% representation of POC across acting categories, as well as the breadth of female directors represented in nominations outside the Best Director category. 

This scattergun approach to diversity and inclusion across both the BAFTAs and the Oscars can leave many film fans and those working in the industry frustrated. With the films made by and featuring women and POC often receiving smaller releases and smaller awards campaigns, there are clearly sector-wide issues to be addressed. Furthermore, it leaves us questioning to what extent the implemented changes by awards bodies are actually making a lasting difference.

Delphine Lievens is a Freelance Distribution Consultant, Box Office Analyst, and advocate for diversity in film. Follow Delphine on Twitter @DelphiLievens


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