The BAFTAs Show Up the Oscars With Major Diversity Effort
With the #OscarsSoWhite controversy on a low simmer until the Academy announces this year’s nominees on January 24, the British Academy of Film and Television Awards, otherwise known as BAFTA, have done something extraordinary in the effort to make prestigious films less glaringly white. Beginning in 2019, films will no longer be eligible for two big awards if they meet less than two of four new diversity criteria. Any films nominated for the Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer categories will have to show some significant effort to improve diversity in "onscreen characters and themes, senior roles and crew, industry training and career progression, and audience access and appeal to under-represented audiences."
The BBC reports that these new rules correlate with the B.F.I.'s diversity standards, which were put in place to improve inclusivity in British films. The BAFTAs are focusing on "increasing the representation of under-represented groups in front of and behind the camera," according to a statement released by the organization.
This is a huge move by the organization, and while it won't impact any of the larger awards like Best Picture or Best Screenplay, in which American awards hopefuls compete, it shows a growing awareness of the need for large institutions to get serious about inclusivity in entertainment. Awards don't necessarily dictate if a movie is good, but a film that receives a prestigious award like a BAFTA or an Oscar has been recognized for its contributions to the medium. For films focusing on topics that touch on race, gender, sexuality, and identity, and presenting characters and ideas that may not yet be mainstream, that recognition goes even further. Look at this year’s Oscar hopeful "Moonlight," a poetic and haunting tale of black male homosexuality, which is enjoying a seriously successful run in limited theaters while it mops up critics’ prizes. Or, in an industry that still heavily favors men, films like "Jackie" and "Arrival" with complicated women at their centers.
The BAFTAs also changed the rules of admittance for new members, who no longer have to be recommended by two people who were already members. "This widens the pool of potential members and ensures that it’s only talent, and not also who you know, that enables BAFTA membership," the statement said. Of the 375 new members admitted this year, according to BAFTA, 43 percent were female, 18 percent were from a minority ethnic group and the average age was 44. The Academy announced their own changes to how new members are added in January, and have since invited a wide range of international and diverse voices into their ranks. But for now, the BAFTAs will be the only group demanding that the content of the films they honor reflect a diverse point of view, and we’ll have to see if the Academy ever becomes inclined to follow their lead.
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