The BAFTAs, the British equivalent of the Academy Awards, have come under fire for nominating only white actors in its lead and supporting categories.
But, in a move that highlights the disconnect between awards shows that try to promote inclusivity but don’t always make significant progress, the BAFTAs — or the EE British Academy Films Awards — reached out to Cynthia Erivo’s reps in December to see if she’d perform at the show.
According to sources, it was agreed that Erivo’s reps would get back to the BAFTAs after the nominations. On Tuesday, the organization reached out again to see if Erivo would open the show with a musical performance. Her team declined, given that Erivo, an awards frontrunner in the best actress category for “Harriet,” wasn’t nominated for her acting, Variety has learned.
Representatives from the BAFTAs did not respond to Variety’s request for comment about asking Erivo to sing. The BAFTA nominations were announced Tuesday in London.
The awards ceremony this year will be held in London on Feb. 2. Some 6,500 members of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts vote on the awards, and they are considered a reliable predictor of the Academy Awards because of an overlap between the two voting bodies.
Critically acclaimed Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet” opened in theaters in November, grossing $43 million in North America, which made it a profitable release for U.S. distributor Focus Features.
Erivo was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance in the Kasi Lemmons film.
She was snubbed by the BAFTAs along with other actors of color who have been widely praised for their work in 2019 movies, including Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”), Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”), Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”), Awkwafina (“The Farewell”) and Daniel Kaluuya (“Queen & Slim”). Both Erivo and Kaluuya are British actors.
Awkwafina was recognized as a nominee for the Rising Star Award, which is decided by a jury, but not in the more prestigious best actress category. The major nominations are voted on by all members.
Denzel Washington, who has won two Academy Awards, has never been nominated for a BAFTA.
“It’s pretty shameful in this day and age, in 2020, when we’re deep in the future that we still have to have reminders of diversity,” said Michael Eric Dyson, author of the book “JAY-Z: Made in America” and a sociology professor at Georgetown University. “People of color are still invisible. They can do the heavy lifting, they can do the toting, they can do the tremendous acting, but they can’t be recognized for their craft.”
Dyson said that by asking Erivo to sing, but not recognizing her acting, the BAFTAs were falling in line with old racist stereotypes.
“We want you to sing because you people can really sing,” he said. “That’s the reinforcement of the ‘Mammy’ stereotype if we’ve ever had one, a kind of artistic ‘Mammy’—‘Oh you’re not good enough to be nominated for the tremendous acting that you do, but we want you to nonetheless sing for us, to perform for us. We won’t recognize you for your talent, your gift, for your superior achievement, but we will exploit your undeniable genius.’ That’s an unfortunate index of the racial insensitivity that prevails in European and American culture.”
Instead of recognizing Lopez in the best supporting actress category, the BAFTAs decided to nominate Margot Robbie twice — for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Bombshell.” The other best supporting actress nominees are Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”), Florence Pugh (“Little Women”) and Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”).
In the lead actress category, the BAFTAs selected five white actors: Jessie Buckley (“Wild Rose”), Johansson (“Marriage Story”), Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”), Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”) and Renee Zellweger (“Judy”).
And the BAFTAs failed to nominate any female directors, going with an all-male slate of Sam Mendes (“1917”), Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”), Todd Phillips (“Joker”), Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”).
“Infuriating lack of diversity in the acting noms,” Marc Samuelson, chair of BAFTA’s film committee, told Variety when asked about this year’s nominations. “It’s just a frustration that the industry is not moving as fast as certainly the whole BAFTA team would like it to be.”
The Oscar nominations will be announced on Monday.
For two consecutive years, from 2015 to 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences only nominated white actors, which led to the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and to an overhaul of the voting membership for the Oscars.
In 2016, Jada Pinkett Smith recorded a video message: “At the Oscars … people of color are always welcomed to give out awards … even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments,” she said. “Should people of color refrain from participating all together? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow.”
Four years later, it doesn’t seem like enough has changed.