Ever since April Reign created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in 2016, the focus on diversity in film has become ever more prevalent.
And, for a time, it seemed the film industry was making positive steps to create more engaging and leading roles for people of colour.
From an all-white acting line-up at the 2016 Academy Awards to a diverse mix of stars a year later – including wins for Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis and Moonlight – it looks like, sadly, we’re heading back to the drawing board this year.
For the last few months, we’ve been seeing respected entertainment publications do their actors’ roundtables – a series of interviews bringing together male and female performers likely to be recognised this awards season – and in most cases they’ve been filled with white faces and one or no persons of colour.
The LA Times cover featuring Jessica Chastain, Margot Robbie, Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan and Diane Kruger was particularly troubling as it was an all-white line-up.
Chastain was singled out for her involvement in the shoot; perceived to be hypocritical because of her consistent championing of intersectional representation.
Honestly @jes_chastain as an outspoken voice for equality how do you pose for a photo like this and not feel absolutely mortified by the blatant exclusion? How is it possible to not understand the msg this photo sends? pic.twitter.com/nb8caRfVL6
— Rebecca Carroll (@rebel19) December 22, 2017
‘Honestly @jes_chastain as an outspoken voice for equality how do you pose for a photo like this and not feel absolutely mortified by the blatant exclusion? How is it possible to not understand the msg this photo sends?’ tweeted journalist Rebecca Carroll.
Chastain was fully aware of the optics and chastised the industry for not doing more to ensure women of colour were being given the opportunity to lead films.
‘Its [sic] a sad look that there’s no WOC in this pic of us promoting our female lead films. The industry needs to become more inclusive in its storytelling,’ she tweeted, adding. ‘Its [sic] TERRIBLE that I can’t think of at least five lead films with woc this year!’
The onus shouldn’t be put on Jessica Chastain. Rather, it should be the industry she calls out for continuing to treat diversity as tokenism rather than a vital component to the storytelling of our collective lives.
An industry that seems to implement a strict quota on the amount of black and ethnic minority stories they are willing to tell, and celebrate, where as white narratives are limitless.
It’s also an industry that thinks when it comes to awards season, diverse films like Get Out, The Big Sick or Call Me By Your Name, no matter how critically or commercially acclaimed they are, only get a shot every so often.
In a recent discussion on Twitter, New York-based journalist Mark Harris revealed some of the troubling conversations he’d had with Academy members.
Talking to Oscar voters and the two worst things I'm hearing right now are, "I liked Get Out, but…come on" and "I liked Call Me By Your Name, but we did that last year." And if they're saying that to ME, they're saying it. 1/
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) January 3, 2018
‘Talking to Oscar voters and the two worst things I’m hearing right now are, “I liked Get Out, but…come on” and “I liked Call Me By Your Name, but we did that last year.” And if they’re saying that to ME, they’re saying it,’ he tweeted.
He’s not alone in hearing this type of chatter as we get closer to the February ceremony; even though the Academy of Motion Picture and Science put in measures to improve the diversity of their membership, it is still predominantly white and male.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that the 6,000 strong group of film professionals was 94% white, 77% male and only 14% under the age of 50.
Since then, the Academy has changed the rules for membership so that those who have not contributed to film for 10 years will lose their voting privileges to ensure there isn’t an age bias.
Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, also promised to double the number of women and ethnic minorities by 2020 as well as increase the number of new members it invites to join each year.
In 2017, the Academy set a new record with 774 potential new members from diverse backgrounds including Naomie Harris, Riz Ahmed, Gal Gadot, John Cho, Terry Crews, Warwick Davis, Donald Glover, Priyanka Chopra and Ruth Negga to name a few, but the scales are still very much tipped in the favour of white voters.
The Golden Globes has often been seen as a setting off point for what to expect from the Academy Awards, but there’s a key difference: the Globes have far more acting awards to give out due to its split of films into Dramas and Comedy or Musical.
However, out of 30 nominations, just five of those were given to people of colour: Best Actor in a Drama for Denzel Washington (Roman J Israel, Esq.), Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Best Supporting Actress for Mary J Blige (Mudbound), Hong Chau (Downsizing) and Octavia Spencer (The Shape Of Water).
None of them won.
Two days later, the 2018 BAFTA nominations were revealed and there was even less BAME representation.
Kumail Nanjiani’s romantic comedy The Big Sick failed to get a look in at either Globes or the BAFTAs while Mudbound’s Dee Rees and Get Out’s Jordan Peele were, once again, overlooked in the Best Director and Best Film categories, despite the critical acclaim for both of their films that explored race in vastly different ways.
His lead star Daniel Kaluuya did get nominated for Best Actor though, and the separate EE Rising Star Award, but Mary J. Blige did not get one for Best Supporting Actress.
Octavia Spencer was the only other performer of colour to be recognised by the British Academy.
So what does this mean for the Oscars?
Given the popularity of The Shape Of Water, Spencer may well earn another Oscar nomination; she offers a textbook Spencer performance in Guillermo del Toro’s movie and she’ll no doubt have every ethnic minority Academy voter rooting for her.
Blige’s odds are less likely because of the Oscars’s somewhat snobby regard of Netflix features and though Chau may have been the best thing in Downsizing, the critical indifference to the film may drag down her chances too.
There’s definitely hope for Kaluuya, though the fact that he is less well known in the US could see Denzel Washington get a Best Actor nod instead, even though his film received far less praise.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a black performer was snubbed despite giving a universally beloved performance; who could forget David Oyelowo missing out on a nod in 2015 for his role as Martin Luther King in Selma.
That year also saw his Selma director Ava DuVernay snubbed in the Best Director category, and given the treatment of female and POC directors Rees and Peele may miss out too.
The ironic thing about this awards season is that the films about race told by black men and women are getting less love than the one written and directed by a white man.
Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri secured several nominations at the BAFTAs and won the most gongs at the Globes – including one for Sam Rockwell who plays a violently racist cop.
Its success certainly seems indicative of an industry that still champions the work of white male filmmakers, and though the Oscars may not be so entirely white this year, it will definitely pale in comparison to 2017.