Dear BAFTA: Where are the Women?

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I will begin this article with a confession, and one that has only dawned on me within the last year: when I started life at university almost three years ago I, Andrew Eccles, was sexist.  In my defence, I didn’t know I was sexist.  What I naively believed was that sexism had already died, that it was an archaic problem, that in this modern Britain women had every opportunity we men are given and, because of this, I scoffed at ‘feminists’ who I thought were just whining on about a non-issue that they wouldn’t be so bothered by if they’d just shut up and get on with their lives.  I was wrong, and I apologise for it.  Ignoring a problem only adds to a problem, and that is what made me sexist.

Now I recognise that sexism is well and truly alive, and when it happens within the industry about which I am most passionate it riles me even more than usual.  This month, sexism has reared its ugly head once more.  Every year BAFTA gives out an award to a rising star.  This years’ shortlist is a very strong list.  It is also, unfortunately, an entirely male list.  At this point I should say this: if the five most promising rising stars of the year are all male then so be it.  Equally, if the five most promising rising stars of the year were all female it would be correct to have an entirely female list.  The chances of an entirely female list are, sadly, extremely low:  “Wow, every one of them is a women, that’s unusual” we’d say, not realising that the reason we think this is because of the invisible sexism we’re all accustomed to.

Let’s have a look at the list.  Tom Hiddleston is easily my favourite name on the list and the man who has most earned his nomination: this year you could have seen him in Thor as the villainous ‘Loki’ or in Woody Allen’s wonderful Midnight in Paris.  Hiddleston starred in the slow-burning drama The Deep Blue Sea and is currently on our cinema screens in Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse.  A fantastic year, I’m sure you’ll agree.  Chris Hemsworth also makes an appearance, as the star of Thor this is hardly surprising – he has the potential to be a consistently strong leading man.  Finishing up the list are My Week With Marilyn’s Eddie Redmayne, Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd and a chap called Adam Deacon who apparently starred in something called Anuvahood which I’ve never heard of.

Despite my rather cheap shot at Deacon, whose work in a string of lower budget independent film I’m sure is very strong, I will confess these are all very strong nominees.  My problem is that there are several women, one in particular who I will highlight, who have been overlooked despite having vastly stronger years than a number of these nominees.  Jessica Chastain  for example, who made the longlist for nomination but was then cut, has probably had one of the strongest years in Hollywood not only amongst newcomers but amongst well established acting talent.  She’s done it all: from the critically acclaimed giant Tree of Life to the box-office behemoth The Help.  From the hugely well received apocalyptic drama Take Shelter to her role in the action film The Debt. These roles have seen Chastain starring alongside massive Hollywood names and easily matching their performances and onscreen presence, those names include: Sean Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, Emma Stone, Michael Shannon, Helen Mirren, Ralph Fiennes and Brad Pitt!  And BAFTA thinks her year wasn’t as good as Eddie Redmayne’s or Chris O’Dowd’s?

It is unfortunate that this comes hot on the heels of a BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist that also excluded women.  It’s also just plain odd that it follows a year where female stars owned the box office with Bridesmaids and The Help pretty much saving a very disappointing financial year for Hollywood.  It makes you wonder what women have to do to be properly recognised.  And it certainly dispels nonsense arguments of people like sexist-2009-me who selfishly believe that opportunities are equal in our apparently enlightened modern world.

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