BAFTA Admits ‘Infuriating’ Lack of Diversity in Noms, Calls on Industry to Change

BAFTA bigwigs admitted disappointment at the all-white acting nominations unveiled Tuesday, and called on the industry to affect better and faster change. It also promised action on gender equality, telling Variety the next edition of its Elevate program will be dedicated to female directors after women helmers were once again shut out of the main category at the 2020 awards.

“Infuriating lack of diversity in the acting noms,” Marc Samuelson, chair of BAFTA’s film committee, told Variety when asked for his take on 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.”

BAFTA faced a barrage of criticism after all of the 20 main acting nominations in the 2020 BAFTA film awards went to white actors and, once again, there was an all-male list of best director noms. Many of the films nominated this year are based on real-life issues, but the noms singularly did not reflect society, with a mostly white lineup in the major categories. The lack of diversity in the acting categories follows a similar situation three years ago, which also sparked an outcry.

As social media erupted, the British Academy was left facing questions about the noms, and told Variety that while it is pushing hard for change, diversity and representation are society-wide issues.

“Joker” led the pack at the nominations announcement, ahead of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “The Irishman.” While Scarlett Johansson and Margot Robbie each received a brace of noms – the latter scoring two in the best supporting actress category alone – the female acting sections featured no people of color. The same was true of the male categories. No female helmers figured in the best director noms.

“The disappointing lack of diversity in this year’s BAFTA nominations once again reflects how bias affects the industry and determines the people who are lucky enough to work – and succeed – in it,” said professor Binna Kandola, author of “Racism at Work: The Danger of Indifference.” “Until [black and minority ethnic] performers are genuinely afforded the same opportunities and recognition as their white counterparts, I expect that we will see a similarly white list of nominees next year.”

“We would like there to be more diversity in the nominations, but this continues to be an industry-wide issue,” Emma Baehr, director of awards and membership, told Variety. “We’d like to see more diverse nominations and we will work harder and push the industry more. But that shouldn’t take away from those who were nominated [this year].”

Where BAFTA can take control is with the Rising Star noms, which are selected by a jury rather than members, and featured Awkwafina, Kaitlyn Dever, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jack Lowden, and Michael Ward.

Elsewhere, it can support people coming through and ensure diverse voices are present on its schemes and programs. It also has control over its membership,which votes on the Awards. New BAFTA members join through either invites or applications and the organization has been attempting to better balance those in its fold, notably through the invitation process.

The number of projects directed by women was 19% this year, up from 10% a year earlier, and the likes of Lena Headey featured in the noms, in the “Game of Thrones” star’s case in best British short category for “The Trap.” The number of women directors featured across all categories was 13, up from eight last year. About a third of all noms, including craft categories, were for women.

Samuelson conceded it was “very disappointing” to have an all-male best director lineup. “BAFTA can’t tell the studios and the production companies who they should hire and whose stories should get told,” he said. “All BAFTA can do is try to lead and push and it’ll have to carry on pushing.”

Samuelson also identified a “massive problem with a lack of diversity in the people who are leading film,” but said there are “some encouraging signs” in terms of gender parity and diversity.

“All that BAFTA can do is to do everything it can do, and that’s what will happen and it’ll keep going until it isn’t a problem anymore,” he said, adding: “I hope that’s what’s happening is the revolution is proceeding, just more slowly than everyone would like.”

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