Anyone else feel angry/ puzzled/ not that surprised about the recent Oscar and BAFTA nominations? Samuel Sims is feeling all sorts of emotion. Here, he discusses the racist, misogynistic history of both and wonders whether the Olivier Awards fare any better.
Any other saddos out there spend the best part of a given year Googling ‘Oscar Predictions’ and hoping, hoping that Scarlett Johansson might finally get a nod after savagely being overlooked 16 years ago for Lost in Translation? Yea, me neither… Gold Derby are the only site to vomit out the predictions as quickly as I want them, so, despite their posts being severely unedited, there I always am, feeling so, so unclean, reading about how there’s a strong chance the next year’s Best Actress winner will have a letter ‘A’ in her name. Like it really matters.
The film award’s season is now in full swing with the Oscar nominations – the Beyoncé of them all – announced on Monday. As so happens each year, there was much celebration and glee about the diverse selection made by the Academy:
Oh. Well at least the BAFTAs, announced last week weren’t so shit?
Yep, when it came down to it, the Oscar Nominations were appalling, with only one person of colour – Cynthia Erivo nominated across all four acting categories (that’s out of 20 people), zero women directors and one person of colour – Parasite’s Bong Joon-ho who hails from South Korea. The BAFTAs decided to nominate absolutely no people of colour in the acting categories and did exactly the same as their American counterparts for directing. As you’ll see from the above Tweet, both Scarlett Johansson and Margot Robbie were nominated twice with the latter’s nods in the same category and one for speaking about eight and a half words in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. This means that Jennifer Lopez – a Latinx performer, hotly tipped to receive her first major film nomination for Hustlers, was overlooked. Congrats to both Johansson and Robbie but come on now. Twitter has been going into overdrive with adoration for Issa Rae’s deadpan remark: “congratulations to those men” after announcing the all-male directing nominations and Greta Gerwig fans have been feeling murderous after what feels like a malicious snub. This is all well and true but other directors, like The Farewell’s Lulu Wang and Hustler’s Lorene Scafaria, among others were also deserving. Let’s not add fuel to the debate by caring more about the white woman, people.
Depressed, I devoured an entire Holland & Barrett selection box after both nominations were announced. It’s OK though because they were 50p each and I’d bought another nine. Also, putting on Cary Rae Jepson and shrieking at the top of your lungs really helps in dire situations such as these. We’re in some weird George Orwell-esque dystopia and things drastically need to change, but for how long have we been spouting the same tired, defeated, angry narrative? And really, in the grand scheme of things, how much do awards really matter?
You may be wondering why the hell I’m going on about film when this is a theatre magazine. Don’t fret, I’m getting there.
UK theatre’s top award – the Olivier’s are similarly held each year, with a whole host of celeb presenters who walk down the red carpet waving manically at the camera. There are numerous categories, which include the Supporting Actress/ Actor, Best Actress/ Actor and Director. I’ve collated some figures which show how these awards fare in comparison to their film counterpart and to keep it simple and completely anti-American, these comparisons will be drawn against the BAFTAs only. I have also left out the Musicals section of the Olivier’s as there is no BAFTA equivalent. Below is a list of nominations in each of the five categories listed previously, stating how many (if any) people of colour were shortlisted and if a woman was nominated as director for both the Olivier’s and BAFTAs from 2014 – 2019. Winners, too (if applicable) are underlined. 2020’s film nods will not be mentioned again as the Olivier’s are yet to be announced. I have also, to keep this article from being 90,000 words long, placed focus only on these five categories. This is not to say the others are any less important or up for debate.
Olivier Awards: 2014 – 2019
Best Supporting Actor = 0 people of colour out of a possible 24
Best Supporting Actress = 4 people of colour out of a possible 24 (Cecilia Noble, Nine Night: 2019; Noma Dumezwen, Harry Potter: 2017; Sharon D Clarke and Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner: 2014)
Best Actor = 2 people of colour out of a possible 25 (Arinzé Kene, Misty: 2019; Adrian Lester, Red Velvet: 2016)
Best Actress = 2 people of colour out of a possible 25 (Sophie Okonedo, Antony and Cleopatra: 2019; Audra McDonald, Lady Day: 2018)
Director = 0 people of colour out of possible 26/ 7 women out of possible 26 (Marianne Elliott, Company and Rebecca Frecknall, Summer and Smoke: 2019; Marianne Elliot, Angels in America: 2018; Josie Rourke, City of Angels: 2015; Maria Friedman, Merrily We Roll Along, Susan Stroman, The Scottsboro Boys and Lyndsey Turner, Chimerica: 2014)
BAFTA Awards: 2014 – 2019
Best Supporting Actor = 5 people of colour out of possible 30 (Mahershala Ali, Green Book: 2019; Dev Patel, Lion and Mahershala Ali, Moonlight: 2017; Benicio del Toro, Sicario and Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation: 2016; Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips: 2014)
Best Supporting Actress = 5 people of colour out of possible 30 (Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water: 2019; Viola Davis, Fences, Naomie Harris, Moonlight: 2017; Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave and Oprah Winfrey, The Butler: 2014)
Best Actor = 3 people out of possible 30 (Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody: 2019; Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out: 2018; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave: 2014)
Best Actress = 1 person out of possible 30 (Viola Davis, Widows: 2019)
Director = 0 women out of possible 30/ 4 people of colour out of possible 30 (Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman: 2019; Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant: 2016; Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman: 2015; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave: 2014)
OK so initial thoughts: I still can’t get over the fact that Ava DuVernay wasn’t nominated for directing Selma in 2015 and can you even imagine BAFTA choosing 3/4 of their directors as women in one year, like the Olivier’s did in 2014? I don’t think the men that make up the vast majority of the BAFTA Jury are capable of such a miraculous feat without being slipped a little something, something.
One would imagine that theatre might be just a little more forward thinking and able to think outside of the ‘white is the default’ mindset, but apparently not so much. The Olivier’s demonstrate that they’re capable of nominating 8 out of a possible 98 actors of colour, with most supporting (and where the only two winners are), 0 directors of colour out of a possible 26 and 7 women (with one winning). Whereas, the BAFTAs nominated 14 out of a possible 120 actors of colour and again, with the vast majority supporting (and where most winners are), 4 directors of colour and 0 women. It’s worth noting that the numbers are higher in the Musical’s section of the Olivier’s but doesn’t this pose its own problems? Why can’t there be an equal amount of everyone across every category?
We see here, that people of colour are still being placed in a box where they’re not even the protagonists in their own story. Forgive the horizontal to the Oscar’s, but let’s not forget Hattie McDaniel’s win for Gone with the Wind in 1940; a year she wasn’t even allowed to sit with her white co-stars! When there are plenty of wonderful, talented theatre actors that are turning in acclaimed performances, there is no excuse. What about Rochelle Rose for Salt and Nicôle Lecky for Superhoe – both at the Royal Court last year? Why didn’t they appear in the Best Actress nominations? Or Ken Nwosu for An Octoroon at the National Theatre in 2017? Where are all these names? Why have so many wonderful performances by people of colour been overlooked? And more women directors like Dawn Walton (again for Salt) or Nicole Charles for Emilia?
The Olivier awards are voted for using four panels of industry professionals. For the Theatre section, a long list is firstly formed by this particular panel and then submitted to SOLT – or the Society of London Theatre; an organisation made up of producers, theatre owners and managers who present shows in the capital’s major commercial and grant-aided theatres. Both their choices and those of the panellists are then discussed and eventually result in the nominations. All very exciting. All very ambiguous. In an article by Variety in 2007, Olivier Awards’ Judge, Clive Hirschon claims he has no idea how the voting works, even though he had done it for two years. The article also informs us that SOLT advertises annually for eight members of the public to join and subsequently amateurs who perhaps are not involved in the industry are taking part in the decision process.
Maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit then?
It’s unclear how many people of colour or women make up SOLT or the chosen panels OR the members of the public but judging by the nominations each year and the fact that the major commercial and grant-aided theatres cover a lot (including the Royal Court), something needs to change. Clearly, there is still a problem with white people – or white men dominating the jobs at the top, dictating who is and isn’t allowed to make a name for themselves in the still elite world of theatre and deciding what makes a ‘good’ piece of theatre.
Is getting a nomination for a ‘major’ award, really that important?
Unfortunately, it is. Viewership for the Olivier’s may have dropped significantly in the last two years (it plummeted from 1 million to 600,000 from 2017 to 2018) and the BAFTAs, too, have dropped, but in terms of furthering one’s career, having an Olivier award or nomination shows credibility and faith; they show respect and acceptance and we all crave that, right? They also = cash, and if you’re a performer or director that has sold a lot of tickets, then you can’t really lose. This often but not always, takes away the value of what a truly special performance or piece of work is. Just because the box office wasn’t staggering, doesn’t mean a lot of people’s lives were changed by what they witnessed. It’s bullshit when you get to the nitty gritty of it, but denying it is foolish. Timothee Chalamet, for instance, who I adore in a ‘I feel a bit dirty because I’m ten years older than him’ way is set to appear in the Old Vic’s 4,000 Miles this Spring. Regardless of his performance, the box office will be ridiculous and hence, a probable Olivier nomination.
How can change be affected? Look, I’m not claiming to be an expert, nor am I claiming to relate, given that I’m a white man, but I am an ally and I do what I can to support marginalised groups and, like many, I am pissed off by how bizarre this all is. I want the awards that can change people’s lives for the better to reflect the wonderful, diverse world we live in. There are so many truly talented creatives out there that could really benefit. How about leaving out certain actors and directors who receive multiple nominations year after year? Do they really still need that recognition? The system needs to be dismantled, people need to be culled and it needs to be grown again from the ground up with starring roles from every type of person (including LGBTQIA+ and those with disabilities but my god, that’s for another article). It’s not good enough stating that the better work was done by white people because that’s. complete. crap. I swear to god if this keeps happening, I might have to ban Carly Rae Jepson from my life and that would be so, so disastrous.