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When Only Those Who Can Afford to Pay Enter, What Are We Really Awarding?

Black Public Media

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by Leslie Fields-Cruz

After reading Addie Moorfoot’s article in Variety about the costs associated with running an awards season campaign, I have to ask myself, and our filmmakers, is it worth it?

Now, I am not a fan of participation awards. As a former track athlete, I was very competitive and I loved winning trophies and medals because I knew that I earned them with hard work and practice. When I didn’t win, I wasn’t mad. Disappointed? Yes, but not mad. Why? Because for the most part, everyone participated on an even playing field. If anyone had an advantage it was a slight one. Ultimately, you were either the fastest one on the track, or you were not. But what does it mean when only those who can afford the steep entry fee get to compete? Are we really giving the award to the best documentary film? The best narrative film? The best actor, director, editor etc.? Or are we simply giving awards to those who can afford to enter? Where’s the equity in that?

Yes, I get it. An Oscar-nominated/winning film can be transformative for a filmmaker. It’s a stamp of approval by one’s peers, it can open doors to investors, studios, agents, etc. But let’s not fool ourselves. Award programs like the Oscars, are not necessarily about the best of the best. The participating films are excellent, well at least most of them. But if the Academy only chooses among those whose backers can afford to participate in an expensive visibility campaign, then they are not really selecting the best of the best. They are just selecting the best of the highly privileged few who can afford the eye-popping price tag to compete. I can’t help but wonder which films and which filmmakers might take home statues in a truly equitable film awards season.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, BPM’s PitchBLACK Awards are scheduled for April 25–27. We do not require participants to pay an “entry fee,” to compete and the identities of our jurors remain confidential until after the awards are presented, to avoid any chance of juror influencing. Participating media makers are invited to compete based on their involvement in our 360 Incubator+program and, in the case of the immersive teams, on the basis of criteria determined by our BPMplus program team. For more about the PitchBLACK Forum and Awards, visit our website, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media.

Happy Women’s History Month!

— Fields-Cruz is the executive director of Black Public Media

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Black Public Media

Black Public Media (BPM) develops, produces, funds, and distributes media content about the African American and global Black experience.