It was a night of upset at The Oscars 2020. A South Korean film walked off with the biggest prize of the night, as well as three other golden gongs. ‘Parasite’ is the first ever South Korean film to be nominated at the Oscars. And it’s the first non English language film to win best picture, beating the favourite, 1917, by Sam Mendes.
It was remarkable to see the South Korean cast and crew celebrating their unexpected wins. And while it was a great night for the South Koreans it was not such a great night for women and BAME film talent.
As at last week’s BAFTAs, BAME filmakers at the Oscars, achieved only one of the lower profile prizes. Comedians Chris Rock and Steve Martin joked that in 92 years there has been progress. The first Oscars had no minority nominees and the 92nd Oscars had ONE African American nominee in a major category. Ouch.
The comedians continued their critique on the lack of diversity by pointing out that something was missing from this year nominees for best director – vaginas.
The opening sequence of the show went out of it’s way to feature diverse talent including Janelle Monae who cheerfully defined herself as a ‘black queer’. The energetic dance sequence showed costumes from African American films ‘Dolemite is my Name’ and ‘Queen and Slim’. But none of these films or artists were nominees let alone winners.
So how does the film industry improve its record on diversity and inclusion?
Actor, Joachin Pheonix, emotionally re-stated his call to “create systems of change” that address issues of gender, race, queer rights and indigenous rights. On an individual level, he recently spoke about doing more to ensure his film sets are more inclusive.
D&I experts often say significant change happens in organisations when there’s commitment at the very top. When CEOs prioritize diversity and inclusion change cascades throughout the business.
Holding heads of film companies and studios to account with regards to diversity and inclusion would shift the dial. Linking bonus and pay to Diversity and Inclusion outcomes has worked in other sectors.
Then there’s collecting data and making it transparent. Data analytics and other tools can usefully track progress in organisations. Sharing the data with employees and stakeholders also increases trust and employee engagement.
In the UK, BAFTA boss Dame Pippa Harris has said: “We’ve announced a wide-ranging review, we’re going to be looking at everything across the board in terms of the awards process”. But wide-ranging internal changes take time to deliver. Perhaps there’s value in taking immediate small steps to give confidence that it really is committed to doing better. For example, sharing the findings of its survey on the ethnic composition of the film voting membership.
Perhaps another step is understanding the unconscious bias held by its personnel and members. There are free tools immediately available that would reveal bias on issues of race, gender, age, sexuality, disability and a number of other issues. I am thinking of Harvard University’s Project Implicit. It provides a free survey tool that anyone can use to see their hidden bias in a range of areas.
Even relatively simple steps can start the process of change. These can ensure future film awards celebrate a much broader section of talent.
Jacqui Harper MBE, MA, Hon Fellow – Crystal Business Coaching
[Note for transparency: Jacqui Harper is a BAFTA member and film award voter]