Why Barry Keoghan’s success is worth celebrating

Why Barry Keoghan’s success is worth celebrating | Soho House

Marginalisation comes in many forms, which is why our columnist Hanna Flint is taking a moment to appreciate this year’s winner of the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA

Saturday 25 February 2023   By Hanna Flint

‘This is for my son Brando, for my mother. It’s also for the kids that are dreaming to be something in the area that I came from, this is for you.’

These are the lovely words of Barry Keoghan during his BAFTAs acceptance speech during Sunday night’s ceremony. He won the award for Best Supporting Actor over his The Banshees Of Inisherin castmate Brendan Gleeson, Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All At Once), Eddie Redmayne (The Good Nurse), Michael Ward (Empire Of Light) and Albrecht Schuch (All Quiet On The Western Front). As much as I might have leaned towards Quan, I had absolutely no problem with Keoghan claiming this prize – the Irish actor has long proved to be an impressive acting force, and in Martin McDonagh’s period black comedy he’s on impeccable form.

As I wrote in my review of the film for IGN: ‘Keoghan reinforces his penchant for creepy characters in Dominic, yet there’s far more to his doltish son of the island’s brutish police officer. Underneath the slurry enunciation and awkward candor, Keoghan tenderly reveals a man in as much, if not more, pain than his compatriots.’ The clip used during the BAFTAS telecast is a perfect example of this tender performance and had me welling up again at how gorgeously he delivered that moment of heartbreak and rejection. 

Keoghan is among the entirely white winners of the 2023 awards ceremony, a result that for many people of colour watching at home, and in the audience at London’s Southbank Centre, was a tough pill to swallow by the end of the night. For as much as BAFTA had gone to great efforts to diversify the voting membership and change its criteria to ensure more diverse talent are recognised in the nominations, there still seems to be a consensus that white talent is valued most. 

Why Barry Keoghan’s success is worth celebrating | Soho House

Yet when it comes to winners like Keoghan, we have to remember that marginalisation appears in many forms and he’s managed to overcome lots of hurdles in order to get where he is. During his youth in Summerhill, County Dublin, the Irish actor stayed in 13 foster homes due to his mother’s inability to raise him and his brother Eric as she contended with drug addiction. When Keoghan was 12, she passed away from a heroin overdose leaving him and Eric to be raised by their grandmother, aunt and older sister. His path into the world of film wasn’t as easy as many of the people who were clapping and cheering him on Sunday.

It’s no secret that when it comes to opportunities in film, actors from middle to upper class backgrounds, who went to private school and had wealthy families supporting them, outnumber those from working class and regional backgrounds – especially at awards ceremonies. Seeing people like Keoghan succeed is worth celebrating. As is watching queer Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells take home the Best Outstanding Debut award for Aftersun – a working class, father-daughter film about grief, connection, depression and memory that ripped my heart out. Her win is a worthy step for queer female representation in film told by a queer filmmaker from outside the London bubble.

And I have to shout out Brummie national treasure Alison Hammond for her co-hosting duties. It’s rather nice to hear a British host who doesn’t sound like they’re about to read the Six O’Clock News. Hammond is the definition of a TV personality, because she’s got bundles of it. I wonder where she might have gone with her career had she gone to drama school.

So, while the BAFTAs have once again highlighted a frustrating debate over why members of the film and TV industry continue to mostly champion white talent over the last 76 years, there were certainly some moments of intersectional inclusion that were worth smiling about. 

Why Barry Keoghan’s success is worth celebrating | Soho House

Not least, Ariana DeBose’s rap about women nominees. Slag it off all you want, even Susan Sontag would define it as a raucous instalment of high camp: ‘Angela Bassett did the thing.’ I mean, she always does the thing. Angie B is never not doing the thing every time she goes on screen. No lies detected. Good going, Ariana. I appreciate you. And the thing you did.