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BAFTA taking steps to improve diversity in the film industry is exactly what we need


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Last week, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) announced its decision to make dramatic changes to nominations for its annual awards: outstanding British film, or outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer.

Films will only be nominated for either of these awards if they are able to prove that they have made efforts to improve diversity in two of these criteria:

-       On-screen characters and themes

-       Senior roles and crew

-       Industry training and career progression

-       Audience access and appeal to under-represented audiences

BAFTA has said that it hopes this criteria will stimulate increased representation of minorities, both on screen and behind the scene.

This applies not only to ethnic diversity, but also to women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people and those from poor socio-economic backgrounds.  

It’s the latest move to improve diversity in the nation’s cinemas, and its proven to be divisive.

A glance through tweets relating to the announcement reveals two camps. BAFTA is either placed on a pedestal, with people crying for the entire industry to follow suit, or it is seen as an attack on white British people.

The latter is simply ignorant. These people see the word 'diversity' in the title of news articles, and fail to read or comprehend what this actually means. BAFTA has placed equal emphasis on multiple groups that it's trying to improve representation of, and by focusing on race in a year of anti-immigration sentiment, people are demonstrating just why this initiative is so necessary.

BME (black and minority ethnic) does not mean non-British, by any means. BAFTA has not said that films must make an effort to improve the representation of non-British people, merely those who are British and are women, have disabilities, are from lower income backgrounds, or are BME. You can be British and BME. To say otherwise is just unreasonable and ignorant.

It would be foolish to say that there is no problem with diversity in film. Women and minority groups of all kinds are under-represented on the average awards list, suggesting that they are in the films nominated too. Looking at the BAFTA nominations from this year's award ceremony clearly demonstrates this. BME and visibly disabled people are greatly outnumbered by white males, who make up the entire nomination for the 'Sound' category. There definitely seems to be a correlation between the field of a category, and the make up of its nominees.

Technical categories, like special effects or directing, are male dominated, while costume design and hair and make-up overwhelmingly boast female nominees. This issue is not film's fault - it goes back to education and traditional gender imbalances in certain industries. In this sense, the BAFTA nominations are just an expression or reflection of issues that it did not create. 

What's so interesting about BAFTA's criteria is its wish to include those from a lower socio-economic background. I feel this disadvantaged group of people are often less targeted in would be 'access schemes' such as this. There is a problem with representation of this in film, as well. Last year, two of the Oscar's best actress nominees not only went to Oxford University, but also went to the same Oxford college. They're both incredible actresses, no doubt about that, but it still reveals a certain trend.

Numerous other famous faces were public school or Oxbridge - Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Kate Beckinsale. Many more are the children of actors, or have gone to the best drama schools and have the theatre in their blood. Most of the nominations for big awards go to actors and actresses with this kind of history - those who've been able and lucky enough to have been in adverts and shows since a young age. 

From 2017, however, BAFTA will actively tackle these issues. It aims to combat them, and improve the quality of the films that it puts on a pedestal for the rest of the world to see. I'm not the biggest fan of positive discrimination. I don't believe that anyone should be judged for anything they have no control over - such as race, gender, age, disabilities or background. I don't believe that a job should be granted to a BME or female candidate over that of a white male, if the latter is more qualified and better experienced.

But we have to accept that, fundamentally, different groups of people are more likely to have had different opportunities in their lives. BAFTA's criteria is not positive discrimination. It's about inclusion. It's about opening up an industry that can justifiably be perceived as elitist and exclusive to outsiders. It's about leading by example. 

BAFTA is setting a precedent. The organisation has not said that only diverse people will be nominated for the awards. It has not said that next year's rising star will be the most intersectional person that has ever held a British passport. It has instead stood up and said that it doesn't believe a film that does not make an effort to try and include the people it is purporting to represent - fundamentally, the British people - deserves one of the biggest awards in cinema. 

It's important to remember that BAFTA is not demanding films nominated in either category to hire a certain percentage of BME cast members, or only employee people in wheelchairs to work in production. It's not demanding that hair and make up be done by men, or that women are solely responsible for tech roles. It's not saying that only LGBTQ storylines or BME leads will get nominations, as so many people have taken their announcement to mean.

What it's doing is making an effort to encourage films to include women and those who are socially excluded or disadvantaged in traditional ways, both on and off screen. BAFTA is associated with the British Film Institute (BFI), a public body. Public bodies have a repsonsibilitiy to represent just that, the public. From its funding to its existence, the entire system is one designed to serve the British public. It would be betraying us if it did not.

If those in charge of films that are proud to be nominated in the British film category do not care to improve the diversity of their cast and crew, and make it more representative of the public it is so proud to be a part of, then frankly, they don't deserve to be nominated. 

The 2017 BAFTA awards will take place February 12th.

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