EXCLUSIVE: Yesterday’s BAFTA nominations announcement hit a nerve. The lack of diversity in major categories, including an all-white set of acting nominees and no women up for Best Director for the seventh year in a row, has sparked a backlash.
Today, the chief exec of filmmakers’ body Directors UK, which has more than 7,000 members, is calling for a significant overhaul to the way BAFTA conducts its voting, which it says could rapidly address the issue and transform the nominations.
Speaking to Deadline, Directors UK head Andrew Chowns suggested a solution, which involves using juries for all major categories at the nominations stage to whittle down the contenders to a more manageable number for the wider membership to digest.
“We think that the discussion in the immediate aftermath is missing the point,” said Chowns in response to yesterday’s announcement. “A lot of it seems to be focused on people reaching for the traditional response, which is that we need to get more female directors and BAME directors making major films. Although that is true, it is not responsible here.”
“This year, there is no doubt that there have been great films from BAME and female directors, the question for me is, [for example] why haven’t BAFTA members been voting for Little Women? This is an issue in BAFTA’s voting system,” he continued.
“In December, voting members will accumulate 60-70 DVDs of submitted films, which they are expected to vote on. December is the busiest month for a lot of people in our business anyway and then you have Christmas when people go away.
“I would hazard an educated guess that a lot of BAFTA members don’t have the time [to watch all the films], so they have to be selective. It’s human nature that you’ll watch a film by someone who is famous, which explains why Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino get nominated. They might not get around to watching something they don’t know.”
Chowns suggested that the 6,700-strong BAFTA membership is “probably not representative” in terms of its number of female or BAME members. “An unreflective group is reflected in the choices that are made,” he added. BAFTA does not discloses stats about the diversity of its members.
In contrast to the major fields, there is diversity to be found in BAFTA’s nominations in some of its smaller categories, and Chowns believes this is down to the use of juries for the latter awards.
Presently, all BAFTA members get a vote in round one (selecting the nominations) in the following categories: Best Film, Leading Actress and Actor, and Supporting Actress and Actor.
The more craft specific fields, such as Director, Editing and Cinematography, welcome votes from the corresponding chapters of BAFTA’s membership in round one, before opening up to the wider membership in round two (voting for the winners).
Animated Film, Film Not In The English Language, and Documentary are voted on in both rounds by opt-in chapters.
The three exceptions include the new Casting award, where the casting chapter creates a longlist which is then whittled down to five noms by a jury, and the two Brit specific awards.
Outstanding British Film is part-voted for by an opt-in British Film chapter and part by a jury in round one (three nominations each), with the British Film chapter taking over to decide the winners. Outstanding Debut is entirely jury voted in both rounds.
Chowns believes a jury system should be employed across the board.
“My personal opinion is that BAFTA should look at using jury selection for the first round of all its categories. If they did that, you would end up with a more representative list of films. After round one, the number of films comes down rapidly, and the voting choices are then more likely to be properly comprehensive and informed,” he said.
Chowns added that this could be done as a hybrid system – like the one employed for Outstanding British Film – or the juries could oversee the entirety of the nominations and then the wider BAFTA voters could select the winners.
The juries would be “carefully selected by BAFTA to be representative”, and those chosen would “know they have a responsibility to produce a varied list”, he added.
Significant changes to the voting system pose a tricky balancing act for BAFTA. While greater use of juries could be a positive developemnt, a more selective voting pool could potentially leave the wider membership feeling disempowered.
BAFTA itself has admitted there is a problem, with chief exec Amanda Berry publicly stating she was “very disappointed” with the lack of diversity when quizzed after yesterday’s announcement. However, BAFTA’s director of awards Emma Baehr also described it as an “industry-wide issue”.
The organization has not published stats about the diversity of its membership since 2016, though a spokesperson told us today that it is planning to conduct a survey this year and will make the results public.
After the 2016 review, BAFTA implemented a set of new diversity standards for two of its main film prizes and also tweaked eligibility requirements for new members in an effort to improve the diversity of its incoming candidates.
BAFTA film chair Marc Samuelson said that the org reviews its process every year. He pointed to last year’s furore around the eligibility of films such as Netflix’s ROMA, where the distributors were not making significant theatrical commitments.
“There was a big review, changes were made, and I think things have improved in that respect immeasurably. Many more cinemas were able to program [Netflix movies] The Irishman or Marriage Story this year, and I hope BAFTA contributed to making that better,” he told us.
Samuelson suggested that the process this year will focus on improving diversity, “There will be a similar scale review of the entire voting process across all categories. That will happen with gusto and very thoroughly.”
“Part of that review will be to consider what is the best balance of member votes, chapter votes, and juries,” he added.
Chowns believes that a major transformation to the system would not only immediately improve the diversity of nominees, but in turn could positively influence the wider industry. “If these [diverse] films get awarded, people will start to think they do have a chance and it is worth persisting with their project. At the moment there’s a real danger people get demoralized by this and it impedes the progress of diversity in the industry.”
“BAFTA could do this tomorrow if they want to. I would urge them to do it because you can’t have this crisis every January because of the voting system. If we had a jury this year, Little Women would be on the shortlist, it’s just not right.” Chowns affirmed.