“Here we go again.” That’s what I thought to myself as it slowly but surely became evident that, once again, the BAFTAs were going to end with every singe winner being white. Cue the exasperated sighs.
In the wake of the first trending #BAFTAsSoWhite hashtag eight years ago, BAFTA made a pledge to review its nominations process. And even as recently as 2020, BAFTA chairman Krishnendu Majumdar committed to producing “meaningful and sustainable progress” to move towards a more inclusive and diverse awards and wider industry. A groundbreaking diversity review made a sweeping number of changes that have inserted jury involvement across the performance and directing categories to ensure a diverse group of nominees. But on Sunday night, the results spoke for themselves.
Let’s get this out of the way: no one is saying someone should win solely because of their race, and we’re not here to argue about who should have won on merit. Cate Blanchett was phenomenal in “Tár,” Kerry Condon was the stealth MVP of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and we could go up and down the list finding more people who were utterly worthy of their statuettes.
And whereas the Academy Awards completely shut out the likes of “The Woman King” and “Till,” here they were at least in the running. But inclusive nominees is one thing: if they don’t win, has the needle really moved that much, if at all?
In a year where there was so much good work that was worth rewarding – from Gina Prince-Bythewood’s war epic “The Woman King,” which had stirring performances from the likes of Viola Davis (who was nominated on the night), Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and Sheila Atim, to Danielle Deadwyler in “Till,” to the creative geniuses behind “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” and many others – to not have a single winner of color after such a singular year is telling. It begs the question – if the Blackness in films like “Till” or “The Woman King” were substituted for whiteness, would we be seeing these same outcomes? History tells us no, we wouldn’t.
It’s doubly frustrating when you consider that some of the films on offer are not only incredibly fresh and unique, but also critically and commercially lauded. If people of color are technically perfect and do everything right but still lose – to well-made but more traditional fare like second world war films – then it’s clear that there’s a bias that needs to be addressed. This was compounded by the fact that when people of color were on stage, it was only to entertain (Ariana DeBose’s opening rap showcased her do-all talent) or to present. There was some diversity at the BAFTA awards, but it was literally all for show.
“The Awards represent our values, they speak to who we are and what we value in the industry”, said Majumdar in 2020. He’s right. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t just matter who gets nominated: It matters who wins. Awards have the power to change people’s careers. Awards have the power to change people’s lives. And who BAFTA’s membership does and doesn’t choose to reward matters, not just for the talent, but for the continued relevancy of BAFTA itself.
Amon Warmann is a London-based film and TV critic and contributing editor and columnist at Empire magazine.