In recent years, award ceremonies, particularly in the film industry, have been dogged by a neglectful lack of representation for minorities.
In January 2015, the Academy Awards bestowed all twenty acting nominations to solely white performers for the second consecutive year, an institutionalised snub which was brought to the attention of the online world through the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
Discourse surrounding these issues usually centres on nominations and awards, but this year’s Globes have given the industry another major diversity problem to consider after it was revealed by The Los Angeles Times in February that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organisation of journalists who decide the nominations and then winners of each award, currently have no Black members amongst its roughly 90-strong association. They also haven’t had a new Black member since 2002.
It is perhaps a more shocking revelation than previous egregious anti-diverse acting and director focused snubs, as it is clear that this problem exists at the deepest roots of one of the entertainment industry’s most influential trees.
Thankfully, the acting categories seem to recognise their nominees meritocratically and in the spirit of diversity – despite their curators’ lack of it – with Mahershala Ali (Swan Song), Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Will Smith (King Richard) all staking strong claims in the ‘Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama’ category as well as Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard) and Ruth Negga (Passing) with the ‘Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture’.
These are positives, but there is a notable lack of similar treatment in many of the other categories.
Whether this is further neglect on the part of the HFPA, a diversity problem that runs through casting, marketing and exposure, or, more simply, if each nominee is justly in receipt of their nomination, it is hard to say without having watched every minute of the selected works and performers. Unfortunately, those who have the privilege of doing so are the ones with a deeply troubling representation issue at the core of their organisation.
With Hollywood’s ethical record and treatment of minorities surrounded by serious questions, it is hard to open one’s mind to the less cynical appraisal.
However, there has been an encouraging fightback in the face of these issues. NBC dropped their television coverage of the Golden Globes for the first time since they initially broadcasted the event back in 1996, and one of Hollywood’s biggest names, Tom Cruise, has handed his three Golden Globes back in protest. Whether that was performative or a statement of further intent is impossible to know, but either way marks an improvement on the past when confronting the issues of the industry.
Yet again, the celebration of cinematic talent will once again be marred by these recurring problems, but should not detract from cinema’s impressive comeback on an artistic level after the 2020 Covid-19 write-off. It seems the standard of acting has rarely been higher; acting titans such as Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman and Leonardo DiCaprio are joined by film debutants Alana Haim and Rachel Zegler.
As for the finished products, not all of the nominated films have been released in the United Kingdom, leaving hearsay and press reviews as our current barometers for the success of films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza or Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical feature Belfast, both of which are frontrunners for ‘Best Picture Drama’ and ‘Best Picture Musical/Comedy’ respectively.
However, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake are three excellent entries that are available to audiences here.
All three are shot by big-name directors, particularly the latter, and would come with my strongest recommendation. Although, it is not sufficiently apparent that audiences are responding to the overwhelmingly positive press reviews, especially for West Side Story which is strangely failing to capitalise on its helmsman’s legendary name and the 1961 original’s historic prestige. Spielberg’s first film musical is a vast improvement on Wise and Robbins adaptation and has more than enough in all departments to satisfy audiences if they would only get through the door.
This is obviously an ongoing concern for such directors who are focused more on the art than the profits, but the struggle to break even is forcing artistic cinema further and further into uncertainty.