After facing off against #BAFTAsSoWhite, the awards show underwent a complete transformation with unprecedented representation in nominations.
In interviews following the BAFTA 2021 film nominations on March 9, British Academy chief executive Amanda Berry was visibly moved by the shortlist responses. “I think I’m going to cry,” she said Hollywood journalist.
It was perhaps understandable. BAFTA had gone through an exceptionally difficult year since its previous film nominations, even without a major industry crippling pandemic to contend with.
In January 2020, thanks to an all-white presence in performance categories and a roster of female-less directors, the institution was at the center of yet another diversity controversy, with the hashtag #BAFTAsSoWhite making an unwelcome reappearance in every corner. of the world of cinema. weighed. Even one of BAFTA’s favorite sons, Steve McQueen, stepped in, wondering why the organization existed if not to support those advancing in the industry.
Fifteen months later, the list of nominees for the double awards ceremonies on April 10 and 11 (split over two nights due to COVID-19, with top prizes awarded on the 11th) is a complete transformation, especially in the areas that were so shocking last time around. In all performance categories, 16 of the 24 actors are from racial or ethnic minorities (21 of whom got their first nomination). In the making, four of the six nominees are women, ending nearly a decade of all-male domination and doubling the BAFTA’s best precedent of 2019. Sound of metal and Nomadland mingle with the tastes of Mauritanian and Clemency in a very unique but welcome blend. If there was a single complaint, it was difficult to hear cheering above the chorus.
“It’s a job well done,” says Daniel Battsek, manager of Film4, which has five films in the mix, including the Oscar-winning one. The father (six nominations) and British drama Rocks (which is related with Nomadland, both landing seven nods). While Battsek admits there was no “particularly high bar” that BAFTA had to overcome, “at least to right some of the wrongs of the past few years,” he says the 2021 roster is “certainly something to congratulate “.
BAFTA had, of course, acted swiftly in the wake of the 2020 outcry, immediately launching a full internal and external review from which he did not emerge, somewhat emotionally beaten and bruised, seven months later.
The Academy’s new president, Krishnendu Majumdar, who led the review alongside Cinema Committee Chairman Marc Samuelson and a specially trained steering group, spoke in a letter to BAFTA members about the process incredibly ” frank and humiliating ”and“ empowering, ”which involved hundreds of hours of Zoom in meetings with members, advocacy organizations and businesses across the industry to discuss representation and diversity, admitting that ‘he had been “brought to tears” on several occasions upon hearing stories from people in the industry who had been affected.
The result, revealed in late September, was a complete overhaul of the BAFTA’s voting, membership and campaigning, described as a “watershed moment” and the biggest reshuffle in its history. Among the more than 120 changes were expanded categories (in Performance, Directing and Outstanding British Film), a new round of the roster, mandatory ‘Conscious Voting’ training for all voting members and a pledge to recruit 1,000 additional members with an emphasis on under-representation. groups.
But with the appointments coming less than six months later (postponed from January to March due to the new coronavirus), few expected such an immediate impact. Indeed, the 2021 nominees’ crop is arguably the most diverse ever in more than 70 years of BAFTA awards has surprised many.
“I honestly thought it would take a lot longer,” says Susanna White, vice-president of the Directors UK filmmaking association, who welcomes the broad consultation process and the “smart and vigorous” measures put in place. Directors UK had been among the most outspoken after the 2020 nominations, claiming voters simply did not have enough time to watch all of the titles submitted, pointing them to those by more established directors or those backed by the marketing muscle of ‘a studio.
For White, the “biggest reform” implemented by BAFTA was a new system providing each member with a list of films a mix of all walks of life they had to watch to participate in the first ballot. And these are all visible on BAFTA View, its new online screening platform.
“It was like, here’s a workable number of movies you can watch, what do you think of them ?, she said. It’s just a lot fairer, I think. And very smart.”
The phrase White uses, and repeated throughout the BAFTA review process, is to “level the playing field”, not apply any diversity quota, but simply make sure that all works are judged. One statistic that suggests it’s working is the increase in the total number of nominated films to 50 in 2021 from a previous record of 39.
As the BAFTA organizers would admit, the pandemic actually played a role in the positive outcome. Film4s Battsek points out that, with theaters closed, small independent films no longer met the criteria of demanding a decent number at the box office to gain enough attention, adding that voters could not be won over and dined by. the usual range of screenings and parties from distributors with the biggest pockets. But it does not take anything away from BAFTA, which, according to him, “threw a lot against the wall in one fell swoop”.
He adds, “They had to press the reset button and they hit it, and it had the desired effect immediately.”
But could we press “reset” elsewhere? Can other film organizations in the midst of a diversity crisis like the currently struggling Hollywood Foreign Press Association replicate the achievements of the BAFTA?
“I think it’s really inspiring,” White says. “You know, it’s an august institution, and you would think the wheels would turn slowly. But it was actually just saying, ‘Yes, change is possible when you engage in it. “It’s actually not that difficult.”
This story first appeared in the March 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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