Bafta to review voting system after diversity row

Film academy admits change needed after lack of female and BAME nominees for awards

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) is reviewing its voting process after criticism over the lack of female directors or black and minority ethnic actors nominated for its main categories on Monday.

Marc Samuelson, head of Bafta’s film committee, told Variety that there would be a “careful and detailed review within and outside the membership”.

But the decision was met with scepticism and warnings that the changes must be more than a “familiar industry reflex”.

Bafta confirmed it would consult various sources and listen to recommendations from industry bodies and its members, with any changes to be put in place before voting starts for the 2021 awards.

In an email to voters Samuelson and Bafta chief executive Amanda Berry said the nominations were “frustrating and deeply disappointing” and confirmed they would undertake the review. They wrote: “We will review all aspects of our voting process, listen to all interested parties, and tackle what more needs to be done to address the root cause of underrepresentation in our nominations.”

At present the voting is divided into two rounds. The first is to determine nominations from specific “chapters” – made up of specialists from Bafta’s 6,700 members – choosing nominees for categories such as best director, score and screenplay. However, the four main acting categories (leading actress, leading actor, supporting actress, supporting actor) are nominated by the full membership.

Once the first nomination round is complete, all Bafta members vote on all the major awards with some specialist juries and chapters deciding the winners in certain categories such as best casting and best animated film.

Samuelson also spoke about the backlash to the lack of diversity in the award nominations, admitting that change was necessary.

“There is absolute openness to change and the organisation made clear its position on the noms and that it was not satisfied,” he said. “Change is required – what that is, is complex and needs calm, careful thought.”

BAME actors and academics told the Guardian that it was time for an equivalent #MeToo moment on race in the UK film industry and that changes to Bafta’s voting process might not make a sustainable difference.

Dr Clive Nwonka, LSE Fellow in film studies and author of the forthcoming book Black Boys: the Aesthetics of British Urban Cinema, said although Bafta’s embrace of transparency and the inclusion of different voices in the voting system was a positive move, he didn’t believe a review of the voting process on its own was enough.

“This is a very familiar industry reflex; a quick and very public statement to respond to the situation, which often denies any analysis of why the situation arose in the first place,” he said.

Nwonka said the move was an immediate reaction to issues of the industry’s own making through “committee culture”, arguing that it would give the impression of proactivity without achieving results. “We will very likely be having this conversation again in a few years’ time,” he predicted.

The academic said that without a “#MeToo moment” on race, the situation was likely to be repeated.

“#MeToo exposed the truth about how female filmmakers are treated,” Nwonka said. “We need a moment that reveals how BAME talent is denied long-term careers and recognition, such as awards, because of racism.”

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, the actor-turned-director whose debut feature film Farming received no Bafta nominations, said it was disappointing that despite it being a “momentous” year for BAME acting and directing talent, none was recognised in the major acting categories.

Todd Phillips’ divisive superhero origin story, Joker, led with 11 nominations, with many films featuring BAME and female talent missing out.

“I feel it was a momentous year for people of colour in film both in front of and behind the camera,” he told the Guardian. “It’s disappointing that there is a failure to recognise this contribution. Rather than bemoan the situation my response is simply to continue to make great work.”

While Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s film was not recognised, neither was work by female directors, including Greta Gerwig’s Little Women and Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir – neither of whom got a nod in the all-male best director category.

There were also snubs for Blue Story, whose director, Rapman, was recognised by the BFI as being an “exceptional storyteller” in 2019. The Farewell star Awkwafina, who won a Golden Globe on Sunday, was included but only in the EE Rising Star category, which is voted for by the public.

Jennifer Lopez was ignored for Hustlers, as was Cynthia Erivo for Harriet and Lupita Nyong’o for Us, while there was no nod for Eddie Murphy for his role in Netflix’s blaxploitation-era drama, Dolemite Is My Name. There was criticism of the fact Scarlett Johansson and Margot Robbie were both nominated twice, with Robbie being nominated two times in the best supporting actress category for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Bombshell.

There has been speculation that a new voting system could move to an alternative hybrid of jury, full membership and chapter votes.

Nwonka said the row about the awards was not about diversity in the industry as a whole but the way female-focused and BAME films are valued during awards season.

“This isn’t a question about diversity, it’s about how we value black talent,” said Nwonka. “We’ve had diversity for 20 years, through various schemes at BFI, BBC and Channel 4 Film and we still have a situation when this happens.”

Nwonka suggested there should be a legal framework installed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that holds institutions to account on diversity and equality.

He also called for a review into how diversity works within British film, with institutions no longer opting for inclusion targets but instead focusing on how work by BAME talent is valued. “At the moment people can be included but it’s not sustainable,” he said. “If value is determined by who wins awards, then this suggests that in 2019 there were no good black films, which is simply not true”.


Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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