Is BAFTA at risk of drawing wrath like last year’s Oscars did? With the British org’s nominations now on the table, a handful of media outlets have criticized a lack of diversity, a defining headline from 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite furor. But let’s take a closer look: Sure, this year’s roster has offered up its fair share of surprises. And Denzel Washington, a two-time Oscar winner and four-time Oscar nominee, has still never been even nominated for a BAFTA award – a blatant omission for such a revered American actor. But, if anything, the 2017 crop of BAFTA nominees seems to be one of the most eclectic offerings in recent years. BAFTA Chief Exec Amanda Berry tells Deadline, “Everyone looks for the snubs and I want to remind people about the strong films. Let’s not overshadow their achievements because they are exceptional.”
Folks have pointed to Barry Jenkins as well as Washington being notably absent from this year’s list but, unlike say, Martin Scorcese’s Silence, neither Moonlight nor Fences were shut out. In addition to Best Film, Moonlight earned nods for Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) and Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris) while Fences‘ Viola Davis is up for Best Supporting Actress.
Says Berry of the criticism, “Barry Jenkins is nominated in Best Film and although not for Director, he is nominated for Original Screenplay. I do not feel Barry has been snubbed by BAFTA.”
It is shockingly true that BAFTA members have continued to overlook Denzel Washington. A voting member tells us, however, that the local Fences campaign “felt tertiary” and it has been pointed out to us that Washington made just one trip to London last year.
Said one distributor, “In the case of Fences, which similarly to Silence didn’t have the amount of time for talent-supported screenings and events in the UK, which titles such as La La Land, Arrival, Nocturnal Animals and Manchester By The Sea did, that would have a bigger bearing on a lack of nomination than any intrinsic diversity issue for the British Academy.”
Another BAFTA member opined that some distributors in the UK are “not really set up to understand” certain films “because there isn’t a marketable black niche audience here in the same way as there is in America.”
Berry says, “It’s incredibly difficult when you’re asked questions about why somebody hasn’t been nominated. You would have to look at each year and say which one lead actor would you take out?”
She also notes that those comparing the nominations to the Golden Globes should recall that the Globes have 30 acting nominations and BAFTA has only 20.
“The fact that there isn’t diversity among the top acting categories shows there is still work to be done. But I don’t want it to overshadow the fantastic nominations that are there,” continues Berry, citing Naomie Harris, Dev Patel, Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis all in Supporting.
Perhaps the backlash initially spiked off of Jenkins’ snub in the Director category, but that may be more due to what may have been perceived as an outlier — Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals — galloped in to snatch a hefty nine nominations including Best Director. Also, Brit auteur Ken Loach — who hasn’t had a Best Director BAFTA nomination in around a half-century — leaned in more heavily than anticipated, much to the delight of the British independent film community.
“This year, the slate felt so full from the high-standard of product from Venice and Toronto that it seems like anything that came late to the table almost didn’t stand a chance,” said one BAFTA voter. “People seemed to have made their minds up from earlier on this year.”
Diversity, of course, is not just about skin color. Shouldn’t it be seen as an incredible feat that Loach, an 80-year old director who has featured less and less prominently on the British awards scene whilst being lauded at international festivals across the world (I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year) has stepped out with a low-budget film that has snatched up five nominations, in addition to being a UK box office success with a $3.8M tally for eOne in the territory?
And while the BAFTAs has increasingly in the last few years become a precursor for what might come from the Oscars, it’s important to remember that old adage that the UK and the U.S. are two nations divided by a common language. Yes, BAFTA members and Academy members overlap but the BAFTAs are still a British awards show.
Does BAFTA lean British? “As a British Academy, we love it when Brits do well,” Berry allows. “Certain films like I, Daniel Blake are likely to do a lot better in the UK than in the U.S. because it’s a very British film with British sensibilities.”
BAFTA in 2016 took a step to increase diversity, setting out new standards and tweaking membership rules. Those take effect from 2019. Still, Berry allows, “This isn’t saying our work is done, but it is saying look at the diverse films and subject matters.”