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Girls & Women

The BAFTAs Feminist Protest You Probably Missed

Feminist protest group Sisters Uncut crashed the red carpet at the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs) at the Royal Albert Hall, in London last night (February 19). 

It’s their highest-profile direct action stunt to date — after they took over the red carpet at the “Suffragette” film premiere in 2015.

Sisters Uncut, a group made up of women and non-binary people, was protesting an upcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill on a night marked by widespread support for the #TimesUp movement fighting gender violence and harassment.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts By Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

The activists took to the red carpet just as celebrities like Angelina Jolie walked past, and lay down, linking arms, while chanting “the DV Bill’s a cover-up, Theresa May your time is up.”

Read More: The Feminist Message Behind Lorde's Grammys Dress That You Probably Missed

The Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is the result of consultation with experts to change legislation and empower law enforcement authorities — while looking at “quick wins” in the interim period. British Prime Minister Theresa May has overseen the bill, which is being reviewed in Parliament, and previously said that she wants to see new rules that “increases convictions, and works better for victims”.

However, Sisters Uncut say that the bill “will criminalise survivors while distracting from devastating funding cuts to domestic violence services nationwide”, and wore T-shirts saying “Time’s Up Theresa” as they stormed the red carpet. The protest group wants the government to refocus on the austerity measures that have meant refuge budgets have been cut by almost a quarter.  

Examples put forward by the group include that of a pregnant woman who reported being kidnapped and raped, only to be arrested and interrogated on her immigration status in east London last year — and the case of Katrina O'Hara, who had her mobile phone confiscated by police as part of an investigation into her ex-lover, eight days before she was stabbed to death in Dorset. Over half of female prisoners have survived domestic violence, and Sisters Uncut say they should have received more support.

Read More: Emma Watson Just Donated £1 Million to Time's Up Fund in the UK

“Imagine calling the police for help and ending up in a police cell — it’s incredibly traumatic and a story I’ve heard too often from survivors,” said Suzanne Da Costa, protestor and domestic violence helpline worker. “We shouldn’t be giving the police more power, we should be giving power back to survivors”.

No arrests were made as the activists were led away by police after several minutes.

The BAFTAs saw international stars join local legends like Letitia Wright and Daniel Kaluuya to don black in support of #TimesUp, after the Golden Globes urged attendees to do the same earlier this year. The movement isn’t just designed to protest either — it’s also a legal fund to support cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. Over 200 British actresses co-signed a letter supporting it, including Emma Watson, who donated £1 million to the The Justice And Equality Fund.

However, not all attendees wore black. Best actress winner Frances McDormand offered solidarity, but admitted she had “a little trouble with compliance”. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, wore green instead — as Royal protocol insists that the family refrain from supporting any political or cultural movement. Yet one critic argued online that “there is nothing political about standing up to sexual assault”.

On Feb. 21, the BRIT Awards will provide a white rose pin to everybody interested in standing in solidarity with the movement, representing hope, peace, sympathy and resistance. It follows the same gesture at the Grammys on Jan. 29 — in fact, grassroots organisation Voices In Entertainment (VIE) provided the roses on both occasions.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — about the unsolved crime of a young woman's rape and murder — won five awards at the BAFTAs — including best film and best actress — and will be hopeful of enjoying similar success at the Oscars in two weeks time. It’s sure to be another ceremony where the limelight falls once more on sexual harassment and the movement that has sprung up to fight it.

But first: Jack Whitehall and Stormzy await. Bring on the Brits!

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