Last week the Guardian broke a story accusing Brotherhood actor Noel Clarke of groping, harassing, and bullying at least 20 women. The claims came to light a few short weeks after he received a BAFTA (on 10 April) for ‘outstanding British contribution to cinema’.
It quickly became apparent that, thirteen days before presenting Clarke with the award, BAFTA, an independent charity that alongside its extravagant award shows offers workshops, mentoring schemes, and masterclasses in television, games, and film, was made aware of these allegations. And yet, it did nothing. In the official statement, the Academy claimed that although it had taken action against similarly accused individuals in the past, it was unable to do so in this instance because it ‘did not have sufficient grounds’. When it came to Clarke, the charity had ‘only received the most generic of claims’. In an industry customarily swift in its condemnations, lack of ‘sufficient grounds’ is a novel comment.
Though the exact sequence of events has yet to be confirmed, it is undeniably uncomfortable that this controversy comes just a year after Prince William criticised the lack of diversity in the Academy’s 2020 awards shortlist. And so, it may appear that, under pressure to improve recipient diversity, BAFTA chose to hold-fast in honouring a black man despite accusations of his predatory behaviour.
The detailed allegations against Clarke are a distressing read. Among the accounts are alleged instances of unwanted groping, kissing, and sexually explicit remarks. The more serious accusations do not bear repeating here, but as became familiar in #MeToo accounts, they include threats that the victim’s career would be torpedoed did they not acquiesce.
Since the beginning of the MeToo movement in 2006, uncovering appalling stories like this has not been an infrequent occurrence. But this case has raised concerns over the “racial overlay”.
When Kevin Spacey was originally accused of sexual misconduct by Anthony Rapp, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences publicly revoked his nomination for a special Emmy award (due to be awarded to him a few weeks later) the very same day. Harvey Weinstein, another disgraced movie mogul, was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science and the British Film Institute stripped him of his awards.
Is the crusade of affirmative action and diversity quotas putting society at risk of treating people inequitably for their wrong doings? Are demographics trumping deeds – and does this mean that realising Martin Luther King’s dream of judging individuals by the content of their character is still beyond our grasp?
Clarke’s official response to the accusations begins with the phrase ‘In a 20-year career, I have put inclusivity and diversity at the forefront…’. It’s hard to know what D&I has to do with the price of bread: this is an investigation into sexual misconduct.
The point is not that Bafta should be quick to judge, nor too slow in its response to serious allegations. It is that we cannot live in a society where individuals receive different treatment based on the colour of their skin. Nor one where diversity supersedes the need to do the right thing.