• Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Are the BAFTAs becoming irrelevant?

ByTom Hadman

Feb 25, 2020

Unsurprising, and yet outrageous. These adjectives perhaps best describe this year’s BAFTAs. All 20 Acting nominations were given to white performers, and once again the Best Director category was an all-male affair. This isn’t due to a lack of excellent works by women and people of colour; in reality the situation is quite the opposite. 2019 saw superb directing efforts in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women or Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy, to name but a few. Regarding acting, consider Lupita Nyong’o in Us or Awkwafina in The Farewell. There is no shortage of exceptional work by women and people of colour – the problem is institutions like BAFTA just aren’t paying attention. 

This year’s nominations reflect a long history of BAFTA’s failure to recognise non-white or female efforts. In the last decade, only one out of the fifty best film nominees was directed by a woman (Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty). Business psychology fim Pearn Kandola, in a 2018 report, revealed that 92% of all nominees for best supporting actor and actress until that point had been white. 

The Rising Star Award, nominated by the public, offers a refreshingly different perspective, consistently nominating a diverse selection of stars, and presenting four out of the last five awards to people of colour (including this year’s winner, Michael Ward). That the Academy gifted Scarlett Johannson and Margot Robbie two nominations each, and failed to shortlist any people of colour, highlights an institution out of touch with popular opinion and in dangerous need of change. 

How then does BAFTA fix such a pressing problem? BAFTA itself has expressed its disappointment at the “infuriating” lack of diversity in this year’s nominations, and tweaked its rules on joining in an effort to diversify its membership in recent years. This is not enough. The Academy, whilst not without its own flaws, invited 928 new members in 2018 in a bid to combat its own diversity issues. BAFTA needs to do the same. Much greater transparency is needed about the race, gender, and sexual orientation of its members, alongside a clearly signposted plan to grow that membership, and in doing so combat BAFTA’s dangerously selective focus. 

Director Steve McQueen summarises the situation perfectly: “unless the BAFTAs want to be like the Grammys, which is of no interest to anyone, and has no credibility at all, then they should continue on this path”. Moving forward into the new decade, the BAFTAs face a stark choice. Either combat its tempestuous diversity problems that will only worsen with time, or ignore them, and condemn itself to irrelevancy. The world of film has never been more wonderfully diverse and varied. Britain’s premier film awards should reflect this, or consider itself unworthy of such a title.


Image: Martin Kraft via Wikimedia Commons