‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

ARTS + CULTURE

‘Stop Filming Us!’ – Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

Isolde MacDonagh

3rd June 2020

 

Posing questions, not answering them – Joris Postema’s Stop Filming Us wants to show us the city of Goma you don’t see in UNICEF’s pity-inducing photos of miserable children. But can he portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?

 

For me, this question is answered early on. Postema, in this documentary, works closely with several African filmmakers and photographers to capture the ‘real’ Goma, a city in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In a meeting, he asks his Congolese co-workers about his Western team: “Did we do anything neo-colonial in the past few weeks?”. “Of course,” Ganza Buroko replies. He lists Postema’s mistakes. “Ah – so we start again,” says Postema. They laugh. “No, we continue.”

 

This film doesn’t try to be perfect. Postema is as much of a student as his viewer, and the documentary comes across as a work in progress. In Stop Filming Us, Postema follows the lives of three Congolese filmmakers and photographers. The first of these is Mugabo Baritegera, an artist and photographer who roams the streets looking to capture the Goma he himself experiences. Baritegera explains that when he looks at the sad Congolese faces in photos released by the media, he does not recognise himself. Happiness is a significant part, not only of the Congolese life but of the Congolese identity (already so attacked by colonialism). When Westerners portray Goma as an unhappy place, they continue to destroy the Congolese identity. “We don’t even know what we have forgotten”: this is a phrase that stands out, as Postema watches the Congolese discuss their history. Baritegera is filmed building a new art gallery, where he can display his work. When the gallery is completed, at the end of the film, we see for the first time the people of Goma taking photos of one another that are not loaded with political messages – they are simply enjoying themselves.

 

“When Westerners portray Goma as an unhappy place, they continue to destroy the Congolese identity”

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong feeling about photography in Goma, many seeing it as the exploitation of their faces for money. Ley Uwera, a photographer working for NGOs, takes the photos she is paid to take, knowing that they do not represent her country. We watch her photographing a refugee settlement, where she moves children aside, stages photos, and asks people to stand in awkward positions in order to capture exaggerated unhappiness. Her photos ignore the life and the happiness that is also present in the environments she photographs. 

 

Stop filming us” is a familiar cry in Postema’s 90-minute film, and every time we hear it, we are aware of Postema’s contradictory position. “Go Home”, Postema is told. But he does not. Instead, Postema films the filmmakers. He films those who have exploited the Congolese with their cameras. He films the prison-like appearances of the high-security gates to the countless NGO headquarters, in what are arguably the most powerful shots in the film. Postema’s documentary watches the people who are creating videos that shape the world’s understanding of Goma. There are two primary examples of this. Postema’s observation of Uwera’s work for the NGOs, but also an episode where Postema films Baritegera making a (beautiful) film showing the positive side of Goma but omitting a street fight and the arguments that happened during his shoot. Although this film was the aesthetic highlight of the documentary, it omitted perhaps what a Westerner would describe as the truth.

 

Photo by: Joris Postema, Stop Filming Us

 

But can a Westerner criticise the Congolese for not being truthful enough in their representations of their own cities? Westerners, naturally, have no right to define truth, but Postema’s documentary wants to understand why these more negative aspects of Baritegera’s film do not come into Baritegera’s depiction of the ‘real Goma’. Postema asks his Congolese film crew why Baritegera might have omitted what, for a Westerner, would be important details. They give varied answers – the violence is boring, normal, not something to talk about. 

 

Stop Filming Us is a discussion. Postema’s opinion is visible in the editing and what he has chosen to film, but he includes different perspectives wherever he can. This makes for the film’s strange structure: it is a film that ends several times. Twice Postema shows his latest version of Stop Filming Us to the Congolese and asks them what they think of it, and twice the ensuing discussion is included in the film. This, of course, symbolises that this discussion has in no way ended with this film. We think again of Buroko’s words, at the beginning of the documentary: “we continue”.

 

There are questions that remain by the end of this film. Should Postema have just gone home? Should the NGOs, arrogant and unwanted, go home? Or do Westerners have a responsibility to fix what they broke? A scene of Baritegera chanting “if you watch, you are complicit” targets the film’s audience: we, also, are part of this discussion. But to what extent?

 

 

Featured photo by Joris Postema

 

 

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

As the dust settles on the 2020 awards season, we are left to wonder whether Ricky Gervais, who implored stars at the Golden Globes to avoid making their acceptance speeches political, may have been right. Many of us may agree with his point that millionaire celebrities collecting awards from other millionaire celebrities may not be a group best placed to preach to the general public about issues such as climate change and human rights. It has now become a mainstay of almost every award show, with celebrities (or possibly their publicists) seeing this platform as a challenge to make the most impassioned speech of the night. 

 

This season’s winners certainly did not shy away from politicising their acceptance speech, addressing a variety of issues with a variety of approaches. It is definitely a feature of these acceptance speeches to make them as political as possible without ever explicitly addressing the issue. While it only requires a small amount of reading between the lines to understand what they are referencing, this tactic could allow them to speak up for important causes in their speeches without rocking the boat too much within the establishment which employs them and presents them with awards. At the Golden Globes this year, Michelle Williams made a passionate speech about ‘a woman’s right to choose’ without explicitly mentioning abortion, and Robert DeNiro made a speech criticising the US Government without mentioning Trump. Do celebrities feel pressured to breach these subjects in their speech but want to remain as neutral and uncontroversial as possible? 

 

Joaquin Phoenix was one winner this season who did not shy away from difficult topics with his acceptance speeches. While his speech about climate change at the Golden Globes was a little clumsy, his calls for diversity at the BAFTAs was uncharacteristically explicit. His Oscars acceptance speech, while a bit of a jumble of different issues; the parts about the meat and dairy industries were also incredibly direct . With Phoenix’s speeches, along with wearing the same Stella McCartney suit to every award ceremony; the improvisational feel, coupled with the fact that Phoenix has been a lifelong supporter of animal rights, makes it harder to be cynical about his motives for making his speeches political. 

 

One thing which Phoenix’s speeches did achieve, whether on purpose or not, was to change the narrative which had been surrounding his movie Joker, which had been garnering its own form of controversy. Joker’s legacy may have been rewritten by the focus on Joaquin Phoenix’s passionate speeches about climate change and diversity, rather than the debate about whether the movie glorifies violence as a reasonable response to trauma. Using acceptance speeches as a way of changing a narrative is a method that has been employed by many stars. Successful speeches at earlier awards ceremonies such as the Globes or the SAG Awards can put them in good stead for the Academy Awards and can help to build on goodwill within the industry. The Hollywood Reporter outlined the formula which many stars employ for a good acceptance speech which appears to be appealing to the Academy; address the acting ‘community’, be thankful and humble, and then make reference to something bigger than you. This formula appeared to do well for Brad Pitt this award season, in which he appeared modest and likeable, and solidified himself as a favourite of the industry. 

 

Many acceptance speeches may appear formulaic; simply an attempt to foster or build on goodwill within the Hollywood community, rather than any attempt to create any meaningful change. While most speeches graciously thank the Hollywood establishment, calling out injustices in other arenas in which they have no jurisdiction; some stars also use this platform as an attempt to call out injustices within their own industry. Joaquin Phoenix’s Best Actor speech about diversity at this year’s BAFTA ceremony was not the first to call out problems at the heart of the film industry, and will surely not be the last. Michelle William’s speech at the 2019 Emmy Awards addressing wage inequality in Hollywood, a subject broached by Patricia Arquette in her Oscars speech 4 years earlier, did not hold back from addressing the importance of achieving wage equality in Hollywood and the fact that it is not yet the norm. 

 

Of course, the 2018 awards season, just weeks after the Time’s Up movement was founded in response to the Weinstein allegations and the explosion of the #MeToo hashtag, could not escape politicisation. The uncovering of the (perhaps not so) secret underbelly of the film industry and the continued anticipation of which titan of the industry the next allegations would expose, has created a new normal for awards shows. It no longer seems possible for awards shows to simply honour talent and pass awards out amongst each other, while the foundation which much of the industry had been based on is crumbling away. Stories which had been held in silence for decades were only just now coming to light, and where better to address this than on stage accepting an award from the very establishment embroiled in this controversy? Speeches at the 2018 Golden Globes, especially Oprah’s famous speech in which she honoured the strong women who spoke their truth and spoke of hope for the future; set the tone for the rest of an awards season focussed on lifting up women who speak out against inequality. One of the most memorable was Frances McDormand’s Best Actress speech at the Oscars. While uplifting all the female nominees in the audience, she also did something which many acceptance speeches avoid when she clearly outlined what she saw as the answer to the failings of the industry. “Two words…’inclusion rider’”. 

 

Whether they make a difference or not, and whether you view them as an earnest use of a huge platform or a cynical ploy by publicists; it is clear that in the era of Trump and #MeToo, political acceptance speeches are going nowhere. At the Golden Globes this year, Patricia Arquette claimed that with all the huge news stories happening at that time; the Australian bushfires and growing tension between the US and Iran would be more likely to be remembered than the awards show. This could be true, most acceptance speeches, no matter how passionate or well-written, are mostly forgotten by the next news cycle alongside lists of the best and worst dressed. Some speeches do become legendary, as they act as a device to frame a particular moment in time, linking the biggest movie stars of the period to the most pressing political issues. The Apache actress Sacheen Littlefeather reading the acceptance speech for Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar, for example, asking for support for American Indian activists at Wounded Knee, made a powerful statement. It is hard to know which modern speeches might have the same effect, surely the speeches about Time’s Up and the climate emergency will reflect their particular moments in time. As these industries remain notably steadfast in their lack of diversity, perhaps more stars will take a leaf from Brando’s book and simply boycott the event. There is always a lot to be said, as Adѐle Haenal proved at this year’s César Awards, for a good old-fashioned walk out.

 

 

 

Photo by Oscars

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

In Stop Filming Us (2020) Dutch filmmaker Joris Postema travels to the city of Goma in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where numerous conflicts and even more Western aid organizations have been in the past 25 years. The problem is, sometimes these Westerners would rather define Goma and its people on their terms. Can Postema portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

Many of us may agree that millionaire celebrities collecting awards from other millionaire celebrities may not be a group best placed to preach to the general public about issues such as climate change and human rights. It has now become a mainstay of almost every award show, with celebrities seeing this platform as a challenge to make the most impassioned speech of the night.

Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland (MQI) has launched a new exhibition of photographs and stories by people with experience of addiction titled “The Lived Experience of Addiction”. Aiming to start a conversation about addiction and its surrounding stigma, the work created is personal, meaningful and unfortunately all too relatable for many.

UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

The 8th UCDVO Development Film Series is a yearly event which ran throughout January and February 2020. The series includes 5 high-quality feature documentary films on subjects relating to global justice and development issues.

Lack of Diversity Overshadows Another Award Season

For the last few years, award ceremonies have come under a huge amount of scrutiny for a lack of diversity in the talent which they choose to celebrate. Heading into a new decade it felt tempting to think that those behind some of the most prestigious awards in entertainment may have started to heed this calls for inclusion. Unfortunately, as the list of nominations came rolling in over the last month, we soon learnt that this was not going to be the case.

Celebrate Chinese New Year in Dublin with DCNYF

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Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland (MQI) has launched a new exhibition of photographs and stories by people with experience of addiction. Titled “The Lived Experience of Addiction”, the Photovoice project was collaboratively created by people who have previously or are currently engaged in MQI services. Aiming to start a conversation about addiction and its surrounding stigma, the work created is personal, meaningful and unfortunately all too relatable for many. 

 

It has been overtly known that the numbers of those requiring support and medical help for their addiction do not match up with the number of detox beds, places on day programmes or staff available for outreach and open access services. Funding is frequently cut, while drug epidemics continue to grow beyond the cities, expanding into rural areas and local communities. Media coverage often vilifies people in active addiction, while our judicial system criminalises them. Public support, campaigning for harm reduction facilities, and positive change stems from voluntary or underpaid services. 

 

The exhibition, alongside the publication accompanying it, is the culmination of six months of work. All contributors come from a variety of backgrounds; from those presently in active addiction to people in recovery. People fighting their way through homelessness, to families coping with loved ones in addiction. As cited on the MQI website, the project “provides an alternative platform for people who are often silenced or marginalised in society to express themselves, and hopes to shed light on the reality of addiction – and in doing so to increase the sense of compassion and empathy all of us in society have for people who are affected by it”. 

 

Located for a short time only at Copper House Gallery, Dublin 8, the project formally launched yesterday, March 5th, 2020, followed by a panel discussion on stigma. Chaired by Joe Little, the audience heard from MQI Chairperson Mick Price, Minister Catherine Byrne, photovoice facilitator Dr Maria Quinlan, and two of the participants in the project.

 

There are plans by the organisation to launch in the Midlands and the East Coast soon, following positive reception from both attendees and those who contributed. The exhibition is open to members of the public on Saturday, March 7th from 11am to 5pm, and Monday March 9th to Wednesday March 11th from 9.30am to 5.30pm. No booking is required, and the display is free of charge. The exhibition is well worth a visit, offering insight and perspective into one of modern Ireland’s most upsetting and widespread issues and struggles. 

 

 

Exhibition photos sourced from MQI website

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

 

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

In Stop Filming Us (2020) Dutch filmmaker Joris Postema travels to the city of Goma in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where numerous conflicts and even more Western aid organizations have been in the past 25 years. The problem is, sometimes these Westerners would rather define Goma and its people on their terms. Can Postema portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

Many of us may agree that millionaire celebrities collecting awards from other millionaire celebrities may not be a group best placed to preach to the general public about issues such as climate change and human rights. It has now become a mainstay of almost every award show, with celebrities seeing this platform as a challenge to make the most impassioned speech of the night.

Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland (MQI) has launched a new exhibition of photographs and stories by people with experience of addiction titled “The Lived Experience of Addiction”. Aiming to start a conversation about addiction and its surrounding stigma, the work created is personal, meaningful and unfortunately all too relatable for many.

UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

The 8th UCDVO Development Film Series is a yearly event which ran throughout January and February 2020. The series includes 5 high-quality feature documentary films on subjects relating to global justice and development issues.

Lack of Diversity Overshadows Another Award Season

For the last few years, award ceremonies have come under a huge amount of scrutiny for a lack of diversity in the talent which they choose to celebrate. Heading into a new decade it felt tempting to think that those behind some of the most prestigious awards in entertainment may have started to heed this calls for inclusion. Unfortunately, as the list of nominations came rolling in over the last month, we soon learnt that this was not going to be the case.

Celebrate Chinese New Year in Dublin with DCNYF

STAND News Intern Ariana took a trip to the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival, which  is taking place from January 24th - February 10th 2020.
UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

The 8th UCDVO Development Film Series began on the 27th January and will continue until February 2020. The series includes 5 high-quality feature documentary films on subjects relating to global justice and development issues. The event’s highlight is that each screening is followed by a guest speaker with an opportunity for an open discussion. This takes place over 5 consecutive Monday evenings.

 

 

Gaza 

The series began with the screening of Gaza. This angry and heartfelt documentary truly captures the sense of ordinary life. As quoted by the taxi driver in the documentary, “Most of the people here are ordinary people like me. They just want to be left alone to live their lives. They just want to take care of their families and educate their children.”

 

The opening credits give a geographical and a brief history of the narrow strip of Mediterranean coastline bordered by Israel and Egypt that is home to nearly 2 million Palestinians.  The Islamic resistance movement Hamas came to power over the course of three elections and has been governing Gaza since 2007. Since then, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, completely sealing its borders. The  film was shot during the Israeli war in 2014 and the border protests in 2018. Gaza, directed by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, received a complex reaction in some quarters when it premiered at Sundance in 2019. Some criticize that it only fleetingly mentions Hamas, while others found it to be manipulative.It is important to ponder the reason behind why an immobile child is shown with her eyes closed and the audience is encouraged to think she is dead but in a later scene, she opens her eyes.

 

However, Gaza definitely tries to avoid direct political engagement. The film shows ordinary people courageously going on with  their lives despite living in some of the most challenging conditions in the world. A young woman practises the cello, a young man records rap tracks, a theatre director rehearses a performance piece, a fisherman broods over the oppression of his industry – they are not allowed to fish more than three miles out, and the amount of fish that can be caught so close to shore is pitifully meagre. The film also showcases Deir Al- Balah, Gaza’s smallest refugee camp which hosts about  21,000 refugees who fled from villages in central and southern Palestine as a consequence of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. This is where the audience is introduced to the largest family in Gaza where Ahmed Abu Alqoraan and his 13 brothers and 23 sisters live.

 

The film is a striking piece of film-making. Beautifully shot by McConnell as he manages to capture stunning images that draw out the characters we are introduced to during the film. The images are powerful enough to set forth the mood and intent. Unfortunately, the intrusive score tips the film more so towards manipulation rather than observation. I didn’t want the background score to direct me to think or feel in a particular way, I wanted to feel this emotion myself from the scenes that were unfolding. 

 

Watch the trailer here

 

 

Push

Push documents UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, as she travels the world in an attempt to figure out the reason behind the housing crisis. The documentary rightly explores why housing is considered to be a market instead of a fundamental human right. Push offers a worldwide wake-up call as it examines  the rapidly shifting patterns in the “financialisation” of housing. This crisis, as the film suggests, goes behind gentrification and the concept of financialisation was an eyeopener to me! Private equity firms are now the biggest landlords and houses are considered to be the assets. As prices go up while income stays the same, people are being pushed out of their homes and governments don’t seem to do anything about it. This has become a worldwide phenomenon, which has been particularly evident in Ireland over the last number of years.

 

“You know it’s time to move out of your neighbourhood when vintage shops open, poor people start to dress well (…)  prices go up and you get the push.“

 

Director Frederick Gretten follows Farha through her investigation that takes her to an interconnected pattern of hidden capital with networks in Toronto, Barcelona, Seoul, Berlin, London and other cities revealing just the tip of the iceberg. Her investigation further discloses  the process in which affordable housing becomes a token for hedge funds, investors and criminal networks to increase their profits while driving out ordinary citizens. The familiar sight of empty condos, homes and apartments, owned by anonymous foreign buyers who never set a toe in their luxury homes, paints the cities nothing less than ghost towns.

 

Farha, alongside the United Cities Local Government and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,  started the new worldwide movement The Shift to ‘reclaim and realize the fundamental right to housing – to move away from housing as a place to park excess capital, to housing as a place to live in dignity, to raise families and participate in community’. Gertten’s film captures the community spirit that endures and gives life to the cities. Push is ultimately an empowering story of resistance and the question the film poses is, “ Who are cities for ?”

 

Watch the trailer here

 

 

For Sama

Is the world listening? Are we getting used to documentaries based on Syrian war? Have those stories  that seem to plead with the world fallen on deaf ears or has the world decided to look in the other direction? Despite these questions clouding my mind often, For Sama may be the most powerful plea yet. Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateb began a video diary to keep record of events when nobody knew what it was like to live in Aleppo, Syria. Caught between the Assad regime and the Islamic state, every day seems  like a new chapter in the lives of Syrians. This documentary that captures al-Kateb’s life through five years is a human story with no propaganda in sight. It’s a simple appeal from people who bravely stayed behind to fight against the atrocities.

 

In collaboration with British filmmaker Edward Watts, Waad al-Kateb tells us the most compelling story of how this conflict negates  everyday life. The documentary is named after Waad’s daughter, Sama (Arabic for Sky). Through assembled extracts of her video diary, For Sama captures moments of loss, laughter and survival as Waad has to decide between fleeing Aleppo to protect the ones she loves or staying in the city.  Scenes where the new mother struggles to put her baby to sleep and dialogues like, “Lots of airstrikes today…but they didn’t hit us” when she talks to her baby is a sign that we have been silent spectators for far too long. The unforgettable moments come through at every other scene – the tense nighttime drive to get through a regime checkpoint, the time when Assad’s forces are just one street away and the Caesarean section to remove a baby from its wounded mother’s womb may probably be the most miraculous and intimate scenes. The most dramatic scenes unfold  inside hospitals as the documentary shows how they are being systematically blown up one after another. In 2016, airstrikes by Russian and Syrian government forces destroyed eight out of nine hospitals in rebel-held East Aleppo

 

The normalisation of conflict to this level is clearly depicted in this documentary. In my opinion, For Sama that recently won a BAFTA and was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year is a must-watch.

 

Watch the trailer here

 

 

 

Photos from Twitter

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

‘Stop Filming Us’ – Questioning Neocolonialism through the Camera Lens

In Stop Filming Us (2020) Dutch filmmaker Joris Postema travels to the city of Goma in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where numerous conflicts and even more Western aid organizations have been in the past 25 years. The problem is, sometimes these Westerners would rather define Goma and its people on their terms. Can Postema portray the Congolese reality without becoming part of the problem?

The Obsession with Activism in Acceptance Speeches

Many of us may agree that millionaire celebrities collecting awards from other millionaire celebrities may not be a group best placed to preach to the general public about issues such as climate change and human rights. It has now become a mainstay of almost every award show, with celebrities seeing this platform as a challenge to make the most impassioned speech of the night.

Merchant’s Quay Ireland launches “The Lived Experience of Addiction” Exhibition

Merchant’s Quay Ireland (MQI) has launched a new exhibition of photographs and stories by people with experience of addiction titled “The Lived Experience of Addiction”. Aiming to start a conversation about addiction and its surrounding stigma, the work created is personal, meaningful and unfortunately all too relatable for many.

UCDVO Development series: Review of Gaza, Push and For Sama

The 8th UCDVO Development Film Series is a yearly event which ran throughout January and February 2020. The series includes 5 high-quality feature documentary films on subjects relating to global justice and development issues.

Lack of Diversity Overshadows Another Award Season

For the last few years, award ceremonies have come under a huge amount of scrutiny for a lack of diversity in the talent which they choose to celebrate. Heading into a new decade it felt tempting to think that those behind some of the most prestigious awards in entertainment may have started to heed this calls for inclusion. Unfortunately, as the list of nominations came rolling in over the last month, we soon learnt that this was not going to be the case.

Celebrate Chinese New Year in Dublin with DCNYF

STAND News Intern Ariana took a trip to the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival, which  is taking place from January 24th - February 10th 2020.
Lack of Diversity Overshadows Another Award Season

Lack of Diversity Overshadows Another Award Season

For the last few years, award ceremonies have come under a huge amount of scrutiny for a lack of diversity in the talent which they choose to celebrate. Heading into a new decade it felt tempting to think that those behind some of the most prestigious awards in entertainment may have started to heed this calls for inclusion. Unfortunately, as the list of nominations came rolling in over the last month, we soon learnt that this was not going to be the case. Although many stars have dipped their toes into political speeches or protests, the huge shadow cast by the lack of diversity is hard to ignore.

 

On the 5th of January, the Golden Globes kicked off this year’s awards season, and there was a glimmer of hope for what 2020 could bring as two young people of colour picked up major acting trophies. Awkwafina, at 31, was the first Asian woman to win the award for Lead Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and was the first woman of colour to do so since Angela Bassett in 1993. Ramy Youseff picked up the Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy, aged only 28. In the heady days before the BAFTA and Oscar nominations were announced, it seemed as though the tide could be changing for a new generation of actors of colour. 

 

Despite calls from host Ricky Gervais for celebrities to refrain from making their speeches too political, many stars touched on issues ranging from the Australian bushfires to abortion rights in the US. Aussie winners such as Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe (the latter actually absent from the night as he was fighting fires around his own home in New South Wales) made reference to the bushfires and explicitly linked them to global climate change. During her winning speech for her part in Fosse/Verdon, Michelle Williams gave a passionate speech about protecting a woman’s right to choose. She expressed gratitude for living in a time when women could choose when to have children; just as members of Congress in the US are threatening to overturn Roe v Wade. As another nod to environmentalism, the Hollywood Foreign Press made the decision to serve an entirely vegan meal to the guests at the event.

 

Just as we were all winding down from the news that Joaquin Phoenix was saving the planet by wearing the same suit for the entire award season (something we can all relate to), the BAFTA nominations were announced on the 7th of January. Within hours the hashtag #BAFTAsSoWhite was trending all over social media. While the Golden Globes had clearly made some attempt, even simply a token one, to head in the direction of inclusion and diversity; it seemed that the BAFTAs had not learnt from the mistakes of their past. At the 2020 BAFTAs on February 2nd, all the main acting awards will be competed for by white talent, with the only category containing diverse nominations being the EE Rising Star Award. Cynthia Erivo missed out on an acting nomination, while Greta Gerwig was snubbed in the all-male Best Director category as well as in the Best Film category. Joanna Hogg’s acclaimed British film The Souvenir was also completely ignored. 

 

After a week of criticism across social media, as well as from several high profile names in the industry, BAFTA announced that they would undergo a review to their voting system. Director Steve McQueen warned that the BAFTAs could risk becoming obsolete if they continued to fail to recognise diverse talent. In defence of the nominations, BAFTA deputy chairman Krishnendu Majumdar claimed that the lack of female nominees was “an industry-wide problem” which the awards show did not have the power to combat, a statement which was disputed by McQueen who pointed out that even films and actors with critical acclaim were not recognised. 

 

Following the recent backlash against the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards and the creation of the 2015 #OscarsSoWhite hashtag; the Academy vowed to shake up the way its voting works. It announced plans to double the number of women and diverse nominees by 2020, through measures such as limiting the voting to members who have been active in filmmaking for the past 10 years. However, when the highly anticipated Academy Award nominations were revealed on the 13th of January, any last glimmers of hope for diversity were soon dashed. Cynthia Erivo was the sole person of colour in any of the acting categories, earning another Best Actress nomination for her role in Harriet. Despite the South-Korean film Parasite, directed by Bong Joon-ho, becoming the first non-English language film in the Oscars history to win Best Picture, alias the top prize, it would not be inappropriate to keep the #OscarsSoWhite trend going for another year. The small step towards more diversity that Parasite’s success at this year’s Academy Awards represents was immediately bashed by Donald Trump who made some disparaging comments about the film during his rally. After implying that Parasite should not have been considered for an American movie prize because it is not in English, he added “What […] was that all about? We’ve got enough problems with South Korea with trade, on top of it they give them the best movie of the year?” 

 

Despite nominations at the Golden Globes and huge critical acclaim, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell was completely ignored. Greta Gerwig picked up 6 nominations for Little Women but was once again locked out of the eternal boys club that is the Best Director category. Not only were the five nominees in this category all men, but none of their films managed to muster up even a Best Supporting Actress nomination, let alone Best Actress; a fact which is telling of the amount of female representation in these films. Natalie Portman paid tribute on the awards night with a Dior cape embroidered in gold with the names of the female directors who were shut out. Portman has previously openly called out the dismissal of female directors—in 2018, she noted the “all-male nominees” while presenting the Best Director at the Golden Globes. After being criticized by Rose McGowan for having worked with only two female directors in her career so far, one of them herself, Portman opened up about the difficulties that female-directed films are facing in the industry. Apart from being “incredibly hard to get made at studios, or to get independently financed”, their making often represents a great challenge to female directors as difficult working conditions like prejudice and hostility lead them to quit. 

 

It is clear that questions need to be asked not only of the talent which is represented in the nominations but also the stories and narratives that are consistently celebrated by the Academy. Stephen King was widely criticised for his comment that “he would never consider diversity in matters of art”, and although he later amended this to acknowledge the issues faced in terms of getting in the door, it touched a nerve for many. The director Ava DuVernay pointed out that this was part of a greater issue, in that many in the industry felt that quality and diversity were mutually exclusive. April Reign, who created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, added that the Academy could no longer use the excuse of there not being enough diverse talent to nominate. There is a real possibility that these award ceremonies will become obsolete if they fail to reflect the changing landscape of modern filmmaking. There are millions of stories out there about people who aren’t male, and who aren’t white; but before they can be celebrated and nominated for awards, they should be told.

 

 

Photo by Walt Disney Television on Flickr

 

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