Only now has an actor from an ethnic background gained recognised for their ability and skill.
On 14th May 2017, the BAFTA TV Awards witnessed a historic milestone as Adeel Akhtar won the Best Actor award.
The pivotal moment marked the Brit-Asian as the first non-white actor to win a Best Actor award in BAFTA TV history.
He won the prestigious award for his role in BBC 3 drama, Murdered by My Father. In the British Asian series, Adeel Akhtar plays a father who murders his daughter under the guise of an honour killing.
Both the drama and Adeel’s excellent performance were well received. In particular, the emotional storytelling garnered praise for bringing to light a sensitive subject that still haunts some Asian families to this day.
Adeel describes the role as a: “character who isolated himself from the best part of himself. And that isolation compounded itself and ultimately became destructive.”
After winning the award, many congratulated the actor, including Murdered by My Father’s writer, Vinay Patel. He tweeted:
— Vinay Patel (@VinayPatel) May 14, 2017
While it is a great milestone for a non-white actor, it still raises a question. Why has it taken so long for this to happen?
Ethnic actors have for years now been playing pivotal roles in TV.
From Lenny Henry to Idris Elba, television has gathered a huge array of talented non-white actors in leading roles. But when it comes to the BAFTA TV Awards, their achievements have often been ignored.
During the 1990s and 2000s, no non-white actor received any nominations in the annual ceremony’s categories. While Sir Ben Kingsley and Art Malik received nominations in the 1980s, it has really only been since the 2010s that non-white actors have been given nods to their performances.
In 2016, Idris Elba received a nomination for his exceptional role in popular drama Luther. Yet, on the night the award went to Mark Rylance for his performance in Wolf Hall. In addition, Riz Ahmed received nominations for his series The Night Of yet gained no awards.
When it comes to films, the BAFTAs (outside of the #OscarsSoWhite debate) appear to be doing better. Dev Patel notably won the Best a Supporting Actor award for his role in Lion.
In the US, TV is again a mixed bag. Aziz Ansari notably won an Emmy for his show, Masters of None. Yet, Mindy Kaling’s much-loved The Mindy Project, was not recognised at all.
And concerning non-white actresses, 2015 witnessed the first non-white actress to win an award at the BAFTA TV Awards. Georgina Campbell beat the likes of Sarah Lancashire for her spectacular performance in Murdered by My Boyfriend.
But still, the question remains, why has it taken so long? Perhaps it could link to previous decade’s oversight of diversity. With inclusion becoming more important in the entertainment industry, it could mean that only now non-white actors and actresses are getting their deserved recognition.
Watch Adeel Akhtar’s BAFTA win:
Adeel Akhtar spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live about his historical win. While not realising at the time he had become the first non-white actor to win, he explained its importance in the journey of diversity.
“It’s really nice because when I was first starting out, the roles I played were too narrow. There weren’t many platforms back then. I feel quite lucky that there’s a lot of stuff for me to do [now].”
He also acknowledged the long journey diversity still needs to take in order to gain equality for all non-white actors. Adeel Akhtar hopes that at one point, race will no longer have to become mentioned, adding:
“We won’t look at that stuff as much as we do now.”
And with his historic win, hopefully, this will mean future non-white actors will get the recognition they deserve, not just at the BAFTA TV awards but everywhere.