The Baftas showed that cultural moments have become key political platforms
A view from Kathryn Jacob

The Baftas showed that cultural moments have become key political platforms

The events of the last year have woken the cultural industries up to their power to drive positive change in society, writes the chief executive of Pearl & Dean

I was lucky enough to attend the 71st Baftas this Sunday and, while the event is always a celebration of the great and the good of the film world, there is a definitive sense that we are at a turning point.

The spotlight is firmly focused on eradicating bullying and harassment, as shown by Wednesday’s joint announcement of key principles from Bafta, the BFI and others, fronted by Emma Watson, and an open letter published yesterday with 190 signatories demanding an end to inequality and abuse.

Watson also announced yesterday she would be donating £1m to a new fund for sexual harassment victims. The wonderful Joanna Lumley was hosting, her double act Amanda Berry, chief executive of Bafta, a great example of female talent - please let her have a long run.

Major touchpoints like the Baftas in the cultural calendar are being used more and more as showcases for outspoken stars to champion crucial causes. In 2016, we had the #OscarsSoWhite debate and this year, Bafta staff were clad in black to show solidarity with the Time’s Up movement.

Awards ceremony speeches are no longer just about teary displays of gratitude, but a moment when change is demanded. Last night, Jane Lush, Bafta’s chairman, spoke of abusive behaviours "hiding in plain sight". 

As recently as 2016, 94% of the Academy’s 6,000+ voting members 92 percent white and 75 percent male. That is simply inadmissible.

The Weinstein scandal has put a spotlight on patriarchal issues in Hollywood and beyond, and the trend towards stars using cultural moments as political platforms, and films like Get Out and The Shape of Water are really driving the diversity conversation.

The line between entertainment and political discourse is becoming more and more blurred. Only last week, Justice 4 Grenfell, a group for survivors and relatives of last year's Grenfell Tower fire, unveiled a trio of mobile billboards outside Parliament, in a nod to Martin McDonagh's film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Issues around the patriarchy come up in Sally Hawkins’ portrayal of Elisa in Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy romance, The Shape of Water: a mute cleaner who is surrounded by men in power, and yet she is the only one who manages to connect with the ‘asset’ – the film’s enigmatic, semi-aquatic love interest.

It’s a Mexican director, with American funding, and a London-born actress in the lead role – truly a cross-border masterpiece.

Last year’s break-out horror hit Get Out - the only film up for Best Picture at the Oscars with a person of colour in the lead role - fuelled discussions and thought pieces around racial tensions, and yesterday we saw its star, the UK’s own Daniel Kaluuya (pictured accepting his award), take away the coveted EE Rising Star award.

The success of the film has come at a time when people are pushing back against Trump’s "build the wall" rhetoric. As recently as 2016, 94% of the Academy’s 6,000+ voting members 92% white and 75% male. That is simply inadmissible. 

There is growing tension around actors with alleged abusive pasts in the #MeToo climate.

The Oscars are just around the corner as well, with several female-led front runners. Greta Gerwig is in the running for Best Picture with her directorial debut, the coming-of-age picture Lady Bird, an accolade a mere four women have received in Oscars history.

This year also sees a woman being nominated for best cinematography for the first time in history (Rachel Morrison for her work on Mudbound).

There is growing tension around actors with alleged abusive pasts in the #MeToo climate – look at Casey Affleck’s withdrawal from presenting the Best Actress awards at the Oscars. Affleck receiving nominations was always a cause of concern, as was the majority of the Oscars voting populace being 50+ white men.

After last year, the Academy actively recruited more widely. Certainly a step in the right direction, and I’m excited to see what comes of this change this year.

Kendrick Lamar’s highly politically-charged performance of Alright at this year’s Grammys also sparked debate about the use of flagship entertainment events as spaces to shine a light on deeper issues. Lamar’s socially-conscious lyrics and provocative performances are carving out a place to address ongoing injustice in the mainstream.

Recent events have shown that change can come - too slowly for some - but soon I hope that female talent, BAME brilliance and true equality is the norm, not the exception. Let’s make the principles and the prizes work in harmony.


Kathryn Jacob is chief excutive of Pearl & Dean

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