Filmmakers behind a new period drama set in Denmark around the 1750s were recently confronted over their film's apparent "lack of diversity." After all, now is the time when Oscar nominations hinge upon whether a given production checks various boxes pertaining to the sex, sexual preference, and race of those involved, when Snow White of Germanic folklore is Colombian and the Grecian Cleopatra of historical record is black.
Rather than apologizing for having prioritized the integrity of their art over identity politics, actor Mads Mikkelsen and Danish director Nikolaj Arcel laughed off the accusation and pointed out a critical fact worth considering.
Mikkelsen and Arcel recently attended the Venice Film Festival for the Aug. 31 world premier of their new period drama, "The Promised Land," based on the book "The Captain and Ann Barbara" by Ida Jessen.
"The Promised Land," alternatively titled "Bastarden" in Danish, reportedly presents a faithful depiction of 18th-century life in the inhospitable heath of Jutland and the true story of a bankrupt former Danish soldier, Cpt. Ludvig von Kahlen, and his endeavor to secure the royal title denied him by birth, reported the Hollywood Reporter.
While the actor and director fielded questions from the press, a Danish reporter confronted the duo with what woke Hollywood gatekeepers and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might regard as a damning failing of their film, which has otherwise been met with rave reviews.
The reporter noted the film was a "Danish production, which is entirely Nordic. Therefore has some lack of diversity, you would say."
Mikkelsen began laughing right away, responding, "What are you on to? From the get-go."
"There is some rules across the Atlantic for competing in the best picture, the equivalent of this competition," continued the reporter. "I see you don't live up to these standards. ... It's not because of artistic reasons, but because of lack of diversity that this can't compete in that competition."
The reporter was referencing the "Representation and Inclusion Standards for Oscars Eligibility," which require that a film meet two out of four "standards."
To satisfy the first standard, filmmakers must meet one of the following criteria:
- One of the lead actors or "significant supporting actors" must be non-white;
- 30% of all secondary actors must be women, non-white, not-straight, or disabled; and
- The "main storyline(s), theme or narrative of the film is centered on" one of these same groups.
The second standard requires that at least two creative leadership positions and department heads, 30% of the film's crew, or six other key roles hail from these "underrepresented groups."
The third standard requires both that the film's distribution or financing company offer paid apprenticeships or internships to people from these groups and further that it offer training opportunities and skill developments, but again only to non-whites, non-straights, and women.
The fourth and final standard requires that the film company and/or studio have multiple senior executives from these allegedly underrepresented groups.
After noting that "The Promised Land" might fail to satisfy these identitarian demands, the reporter asked the filmmakers if they were worried.
Mikkelsen responded, "Are you? And I'm serious."
In reply, the reporter pointed out one notable exception where a foreign film devoid of diversity was recently celebrated by Hollywood: "Parasite," the South Korean film that won best picture at the 92nd Academy Awards.
"'Parasite' was a great movie coming from South Korea," said the reporter. "[It] had the same level of diversity but coming from South Korea, this was still eligible for the competition."
The reporter added that the acceptance of the all-Korean film but likely rejection of the all-Nordic film presented a "little bit of a conundrum."
Arcel emphasized that the film takes place in a time and place where "almost nobody" was non-white, adding that the solitary "girl of color" featured in the film would have been exceptional.
"It's just a historical — how it was in the 1750s," added Arcel.
The lead female protagonist is reportedly a pure fiction, however, invented for Jessen's novel.
The director further intimated that satisfying diversity standards "wasn't a thought in our minds" when telling the story of the Danish soldier.
Arcel told Variety last week, "I couldn't have made this film in Hollywood."
"Today, it’s more about action and superheroes, but I’m very interested in taking that genre, one that has gotten a bit lost, and modernizing it," said Arcel. "It has this western quality because it's about pioneers in a new land, trying to build something, but I was more interested in looking at old epics like 'Lawrence of Arabia.' I think it’s a genre we need."
Mads Mikkelsen and Nikolaj Arcel Discuss Diversity & 'The Promised Land' at the Venice Film Festivalyoutu.be
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