#BAFTAsSoWhite was not the hashtag that BAFTA brass was hoping would trend on Twitter within minutes of nominations being announced.
Yet there it was: an incensed public response to a slate that, for the fourth time in a decade, yielded all-white nominees in the four top acting categories, including two apiece for actresses Margot Robbie and Scarlett Johansson — at the expense of heavily buzzed contenders including Lupita Nyong’o, Golden Globe winner Awkwafina and even British star Cynthia Erivo.
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Erivo would scoop an Oscar nomination days later, making the BAFTA omission all the more jarring.
In a bitter irony, the inaugural nominees for the new casting award — BAFTA’s one well received move this year, it seems — included Sarah Crowe for “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” a Dickens adaptation that has received praise for its diverse, color-blind ensemble led by former BAFTA winner Dev Patel.
When none of its individual actors made the cut, however, it’s fair to say BAFTA is delivering mixed messages about inclusion.
The white-out in the acting races was only the most blatantly visible misstep in a year that fell short on diversity in multiple other respects: the all-male director lineup was widely noted, as was the absence of female-driven stories in the best film category. Others bemoaned the general sidelining of British independent filmmaking in a slate largely in thrall to Oscar front-runners.
A face-saving BAFTA email circulated to members trumpeted the four individual nominations for Iranian director Waad Al-Kateab for the wrenching British documentary “For Sama,” though three of those nods came in jury-determined, British-only categories. Jessie Buckley’s surprise lead actress nomination for “Wild Rose” marked the only mention for a local indie in one of the major general fields, while Joanna Hogg’s critically acclaimed memoir “The Souvenir” — which topped the prestigious annual Sight & Sound critics’ poll — was frozen out of all categories, even British film.
Major industry figures voiced their discontent.
Steve McQueen, a BAFTA winner for “Hunger” and “12 Years a Slave,” was particularly damning.
“If the BAFTAs are not supporting British talent, if you’re not supporting the people who are making headway in the industry, then I don’t understand what you are there for,” he says. “It’s not just British talent, it’s talent in general.”
He cited Nyong’o’s omission as another “crazy” failure to recognize outstanding diverse talent.
Meanwhile, Erivo, who had been invited to perform at the BAFTA ceremony, pointedly declined: “I felt like [the offer] didn’t represent people of color in the right light.”
BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry, after professing herself “very disappointed” by the situation, has pledged renewed “efforts to affect real change,” while their film committee head Marc Samuelson has promised a “careful and detailed review” of the voting process in time for next year’s awards.
What that might entail is anyone’s guess: Outsiders have proposed dramatically expanding the membership as AMPAS has recently done, or a committee-oriented nomination process similar to that used by the more diversity-inclined British Independent Film Awards.
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