The BAFTAs have designed their acting awards in such a way as to avoid what just happened with the Oscars. There is no way, with their select committee deciding three of the six nominations in each acting category, they would have allowed two Black actresses to be shut out. But they’ve also so completely wrecked their own credibility by replacing the will of their voters with a small committee to make the “right” choices that one wonders what the point of any of it is anymore. Why not just hand out certificates of achievement? Why make it a contest? By its nature, a contest isn’t designed to be “fair.” It’s Darwinian. It’s survival. It’s dog eat dog, or as Woody Allen would say, dog doesn’t return other dog’s phone calls.
In their efforts to become more “fair,” the Academy has implemented inclusivity standards set to take place officially next year. This means projects can only qualify for the Oscars if they meet a specific criteria to ensure marginalized groups are represented in front of and behind the camera. This news has already wrecked almost all of the Academy’s credibility as an institution that awards high achievement in film. But that’s really only the beginning.
The Oscars have never really been “fair.” Popularity within the industry matters. Good looks and youth can sometimes matter, especially with women, and it helps to be a part of the majority population – aka white people who are roughly the same percentage in the Academy as they are in the country, maybe a little higher, around 80%. They’re around 70% male. The money any given studio has also tips the scale to those who have the resources to get their contenders in front of the voters.
The Academy has gone to extraordinary lengths to address the complaints against them, inviting thousands of new members into the ranks to change their demographics. But as we know, people don’t always vote in predictable ways. I learned my lesson on this when the Alliance of Women Film Journalists chose Argo over Zero Dark Thirty. People are people and they tend to vote for what they think is best.
The reasons I stopped writing from a Critical Race and Gender perspective wasn’t just that I was slammed repeatedly on Twitter by fanatics that I was a “white supremacist” and “racist” at various points throughout the last seven years or so, but I saw the awards community online and in the industry LOSE ITS MIND after 2016.
That kicked into gear various ways to “fix” what was broken. Since Green Book, no white man has won Best Director or or directed a film that won Best Picture.
2019 — Parasite
2020 — Nomadland
2021 — CODA/Jane Campion
That’s only three years, activists would say, compared to what, 90 years of white men winning? Fair enough. But it has also destroyed the Academy’s credibility and the film industry overall. They stopped appealing to the silent majority and aimed their content at the loud minority online. That’s why Top Gun: Maverick is successful and why it was important for the Academy to show they still have one foot in the real world.
With all of that said, let’s talk about the Best Actress race. Voting on merit alone, there is no way Cate Blanchett can lose the award. She has won the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice for her work in TÁR. Her performance, along with Todd Field’s writing and directing has landed the film in multiple categories.
If she wins, it will be her third Oscar. Are they really going to deny Michelle Yeoh, a legendary Asian actress, her first? After what has happened with Riseborough, I’m not sure. Maybe they will feel like they have to vote for Yeoh, who also gave a great performance not just in Everything, Everywhere but has being delivering great and beloved performances throughout her career, especially in action films where she does her own fights and stunts.
Women of color must carry the extra burden of speaking for not just an entire community, but for their past, present, and future. That greatly limits what kinds of roles they can play. I imagine Viola Davis in TÁR for instance and I can see an Oscar winner in the making. Does she get those kinds of roles? Would she play those kinds of roles? Rather she is thrust into the position of being a near-religious symbol for the white allies in the industry (”please absolve us of our collective sins”) and speaking for a whole community every time she plays a part or gives a speech. She can never just be an actress.
We’re coming out of last year’s slate of five Best Actress nominees that, for the first time in a long while, didn’t have corresponding Best Picture nominees. This year, it works out like this:
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere — Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actress X2, Supporting Actor, Score, Song, Costumes, Editing
Cate Blanchett, TAR — Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Cinematography, Editing
Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans — Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Production Design, Score
Ana de Armas, Blonde — Best Actress
Andrea Riseborough, To Leslie — Best Actress
Viola Davis, The Woman King — 0
Danielle Deadwyler, Till — 0
How many people actually saw Till? The story of Emmett Till is so tragic, so painful, it isn’t exactly going to be at the top of the screener pile for many people who find the subject too upsetting, especially now as we’re crawling our way out of a traumatic few years.
The Woman King was hit with a quiet controversy — verboten to mention on the Left but widely discussed on the Right — that they buried a part of the story that was about the history of the tribe in terms of selling their own people to white slave-traders.
Perhaps, to many voters, these films — like most films about Black history — are simply too painful to keep returning to every year. For the Black community, they’re important stories that need to be told, and for activists online they also help define who they are and what they care about.
Riseborough plays exactly the kind of role Academy voters traditionally respond to: tragic but then triumphant. It makes them feel good to watch her character’s trajectory. The idea that she is a (relatively) older actress who has been acting forever and finally got a leading role has likely resonated with the actresses advocating for her with a well-intentioned, coordinated campaign to get her the nomination. Actresses like Frances Fisher know how hard it is get those kinds of roles or to get people to watch them.
Riseborough was one of the ten nominees at the Spirit Awards with their “gender neutral” mishegoss. Had she gotten in with a lineup of five, pundits like me would have paid closer attention. As one of ten she disappears in a sea of indie projects that, at some point, all blur together as the same movie.
Most critics and many pundits are activists, like I used to be. I was the exception as a blogger who wrote from the perspective of race and gender. Now almost everyone does. That means they prioritize race when it comes to Best Actress, all of them do. That is how Deadwyler and Davis ended up in the consensus in the first place. They’re trying to be helpful, move the needle, and make things “fair.”
But in so doing, they (we) have created a different kind of rigged game, one that seems to automatically exclude someone like Andrea Riseborough who really did deserve to be “in the conversation” for her work in To Leslie. And she wasn’t. Why? Partly because she is white and because no one prioritized her until these high-profile influencers did.
It’s hard to root against that, but it isn’t exactly “fair.” Coming into the race, contenders were playing by the rules set forth up until that point. They knew they had to become part of the consensus, either through raised awareness by people like me, or by the various groups in a game of chicken. Who was going to be the group that left Black actresses out of the top five contenders and, thus, would be screamed at for racism?
It wasn’t going to be the Spirit Awards. They covered their own ass with their “gender neutral” mess which resulted in only one white male nominee and it isn’t even Brendan Fraser. Not the Golden Globes — they’re covered with two separate categories, with room enough for all.
Not the BAFTA – they have a committee to make sure they aren’t the ones called out and screamed at. It’s baked-in. They are protected.
Not the SAG — their nominating committee, seems to almost always be more diverse than any other group.
Not the Critics Choice because they too have expanded their list to be as inclusive as possible. They have six nominees and not five, so they could afford to have both Davis and Deadwyler, but they also excluded Ana de Armas for Blonde.
It’s funny watching how various people take sides in this debate to serve their own ends. It’s easy to blame the voters for being racist on one side, and it’s easy to be dismissive on the other side with people who are either loudly or secretly “anti-woke.” The truth is that neither side is 100% “right.”
Both things can be true at once: Riseborough deserved more attention and maybe even a nomination, AND the way she got in is a little unethical.
The rules set in place mean that no one else thought a guerrilla campaign was on the table. Instead, high-profile types like Kate Winslet and specifically Frances Fisher used their platforms to urge Academy voters to watch the movie and vote for Riseborough because the other four actress were “safe.”
Frances Fisher should leave Oscar punditry to the professionals. We know that no one in the race, with the exception of Blanchett and Yeoh, were “safe.” It is a highly competitive race and people were trying their best to ensure it was equitable and fair. It was a juggling act that required a lot of effort on the part of publicists, critics, and pundits to push Davis and Deadwyler, against the odds, into the race.
Moreover, Christina Ricci should also take a seat, along with everyone else huffing and puffing at the Academy for looking into the campaigning behind To Leslie. They have to figure out how to set new rules with the kind of access people have on social media. They have had a long history of keeping overt campaigning in check. Give them a break already. Or pick a lane.
All they get is nonstop criticism for not having enough Black contenders. Now they’re getting criticism because they’re trying to figure out what counts as fair campaigning and what doesn’t after two Black actresses were shut out. It isn’t an “investigation” of how she got her nomination. It’s an investigation of the tactics used to get that nomination, which is absolutely the right thing to do in my opinion.
The other side of the argument, however, is that in their (our) efforts to make things equitable, the entire value of the award itself risks being lost. There is no honor in having something handed to you if people believe you do not deserve it.
Here is what I know: unless you are there because you actually deserve it no one is going to value the win. They will always see the name with an asterisk next to it that says they got there because voters wanted to make things fair, and not because they deserved to win. This is as true for someone who is there because they are not white or male as it is for Riseborough.
On the one hand, only one Black actress has won in the leading category for the past 95 years. I know they don’t want that to be true for much longer. On the other hand, what’s the solution? Total self-destruction?
The Academy has no choice but to be themselves. Otherwise, there is no point to these awards. Tell us who you really think deserves to win. Otherwise, any time someone who isn’t white wins an award, no one will believe it was based on anything other than the need for absolution and forgiveness.