As children, when we aren’t nominated for something – perhaps first place at the school talent show, or Best in Show at the science fair – adults who mean well might say, “It’s just an award.” Which is true, except when the trophy is beyond the point, such as what happened this week with France’s Angoulême International Comics Festival (FIBD). Of the thirty nominees this year, not one was a woman.
In response, twelve of the nominees dropped out of consideration. FIBD shot back by adding six women to the original thirty nominees, and then abandoned the list altogether in favor of an open voting process with FIBD-selected nominees from which to choose. But the highlight (lowlight?) of the debacle may have been when the Festival’s head, Franck Bondoux, gave an interview in which he said the Festival “cannot rewrite the history of comics” and cited the low ratio of female artists to male artists hanging in the Louvre as if to prove his point or validate the Festival’s omission of women.
Awards and nominees often act as cultural signposts for the masses trying to cut their way through noise to read, see or listen to the best. It’s a problem when not one of those signposts point to voices beyond a white male establishment in part because it means fewer people will discover and encourage those voices, and hear stories and perspectives which are not represented by groups that have traditionally been in a position of power. It’s something to keep in mind when the Academy Award nominations are announced this week; last year was notable for not including a person of color in any of the acting categories. When accepting her Best Actress in a Drama Emmy win (she was the first African-American to do so), Viola Davis said, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” She’s right. Without the recognition that often comes with winning an award, fewer chances exist for diverse artists and their stories.
It’s hard to imagine Academy Award nominees dropping out in protest for a lack of representation in their categories. But first, let’s see what happens Thursday.