A major awards overhaul by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) is being heralded by the U.K. industry as a “bold plan” that may finally spark enduring change.

In an interview with Variety, BAFTA chair Krishnendu Majumdar described the new rules as a “wholesale cultural change” that has been in the works for seven months. “We want to have a positive impact on the wider industry, but it’s important to put our own house in order,” says Majumdar.

BAFTA’s changes, which will apply to the 2021 awards, follow an extensive industry review of the org following the 2020 Film Awards, which were based on all-white acting nominations and zero female director nods, and drew outrage across the British industry in January. Ever since, BAFTA has been steadfast in promising change, and on Thursday, it delivered.

Landmark initiatives — of 120 changes in total — include an expansion of the outstanding British film category to 10 nominations; a key longlisting round across all categories that targets acting and directing in particular; and the planned induction of 1,000 new members from underrepresented groups.

The rules will also make it mandatory to watch all longlisted films ahead of Round 2 voting. A new online portal, BAFTA View, will open up with high-tech tracking mechanisms, and DVD screeners will be phased out by the 2022 awards. However, viewing won’t be policed; Majumdar says it will come down to “an element of trust” with the membership.

Film Committee chair Marc Samuelson says of the crucial longlisting process: “It’s the creation of the new middle ground that’s key to this. There will be a chapter and they have to watch everything to create the longlist. The dominance and marketing falls away at that point because people are watching the films. There’s some nuance around that longlist.”

The longlisting juries, meanwhile, will be created by the BAFTA Film Committee and from outside membership, with each supplying half the jurors, and will change every year.

There are no quotas or guarantees, warns Samuelson, “but in that middle round, the films will all have to be watched. We’re getting the films seen so it’s fair and it’s a level playing field.”

In the case of the acting awards, a longlisting jury will add three more names to the acting chapter’s 12 proposed names in Round 1 voting, ensuring intersectional diversity on those longlists. The same logic applies to the directing category, where the directing chapter selects the top eight female and top eight male directors, with two extra names for each served up by the longlisting jury, with 20 names going through to Round 2.

The additional names will account for “anything glaring that’s been missed,” says Samuelson. “And then, mixed together, in round two, no one knows what names were voted by chapter, and what was added.”

The final Round 3 that selects winners is open to the whole membership, which is voting on six nominations for acting and six for directing. The newly added sixth place “encourages the broadest possible representation,” says Samuelson.

In regards to the expanded British film category, Majumdar says the 10 spots — up from six — allow for “some big movies, and some smaller movies.”

“A lot of people told us they want the film BAFTAs to shine a spotlight on British work and within the global context,” notes the executive, who highlights that showcasing 10 films throughout the awards ceremony will also give the event “a sharper definition in terms of cultural identity.”

Meanwhile, the BAFTA membership will grow by 1,000 over the next two years, though existing members won’t be asked to leave. “The whole process is about adding new members. It’s about inclusion, not exclusion,” says Majumdar. “We need to diversify the membership to make it stronger and richer, but longstanding members are valued and crucial.”

There are no clear answers to the repercussions faced by BAFTA members who don’t support the new rules. Majumdar is keen to get everyone on side, and further the dialogue via a series of Town Halls and “open surgeries” where members can discuss matters directly with him.

Samuelson simply hopes the membership will read the report fully to understand the breadth of the changes. “They’ll be happy that it’s thought through, and [it will work if] everyone stays and plays their part.”

Industry embraces new chapter for BAFTA

The industry has so far welcomed BAFTA’s review, with a range of orgs applauding the wide-reaching changes in store for the awards.

Dame Heather Rabbatts, chair of Time’s Up UK, which contributed to the review, said: “This is a bold plan and one we at Time’s Up welcome and support. As we all know, this is the start of the journey. Now these recommendations need to be enacted and implemented to ensure that the cultural and creative ambitions we all want to see are realized.”

Meanwhile, Directors UK, which in January challenged BAFTA to review their voting processes following the shocking lack of female representation in the director category, said they, too, were buoyed by the results.

Andy Harrower, CEO of Directors UK, said, “We’re pleased to see our challenge taken seriously. We called for radical voting reform across all categories, recognizing that the awards process was failing to reflect the diversity of the films being made. To truly serve and represent the breadth of talent working across our
industry, a bold and holistic review was needed. The proposed changes to address the lack of representation in their Film Awards and their membership are wide ranging and clearly deeply considered.”

Harrower said the changes in the directing category to address the historic lack of female representation are “a levelling up for women that is long overdue and a welcome progression.”

Entertainment union Bectu, however, was more measured in its praise, with Bectu boss Philippa Childs noting “there is still a long way to go and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.”

“We will see at the 2021 awards whether the measures announced in this review will be enough to make a meaningful difference,” said Childs, who said the union is meeting with BAFTA separately to discuss the Craft Awards.

“We are committed to working with our industry partners to deliver the positive change that is so deeply needed and so long overdue. We hope today’s practical steps will make a difference,” said Childs.