Diversity backlash clouds BAFTA nominations that see Joker lead the pack

Hot on the heels of the Golden Globes, Britain’s film and TV academy, BAFTA has announced a set of film award nominations that – as its American counterpart’s did back in 2016 – have prompted a backlash over a lack of diversity.

It wasn’t long before the all-white nominations lists for the four main acting awards sparked a “BAFTAs So White” hash-tag. Similarly, as Hollywood generally has been criticised for having too many all-male directing nominee shortlists, no women have been nominated in that category by BAFTA this year.

So is BAFTA racist and sexist? Is it small-C conservative? Or were there just not enough award-worthy films directed by women or with ethnic minority casts – which, in return, could reflect on diversity in the wider industry; if only a small proportion of film-makers rise to the top, you need a more diverse workforce more generally to end up with a more diverse set of nominees. Then of course, there’s the question if whether awards are even the right way to characterise success.

BAFTA’s critics point to Awkwafina (centre, in The Farewell) as a minority actress who could have made the short-list.

The head of BAFTA admitted that the nominations list “seems very white,” but stressed that BAFTA was doing more than any other country’s film academies to try to redress the balance, but measures, such as new diversity criteria that have to be met to be considered in the British-only categories, clearly have no impact on the main categories, which are generally dominated by the higher profile global stars.

Many critics have argued that the British Academy – which has a tendency to recognise British talent over that of other countries, might have nominated the Chinese-American actress Awkwafina for her Golden Globe-winning turn in the US social and cultural comedy (or at least that’s how the Globes characterised it), The Farewell. Harder to argue against might be the British actress Cynthia Erivo, for her Golden Globe-nominated turn as an emancipated slave in Harriet.

But who might they have replaced in the list? A breakthrough performance from the young British actress Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose? Renée Zellweger’s Globe-winning portrayal of Judy Garland? Charlize Theron in the female empowerment film Bombshell? Scarlett Johansson’s divorcing wife in Marriage Story? She’s also nominated in the supporting category, after all, so the argument goes. The Metro’s film critic Larushka Ivan-Zadeh went so far as to say that with both Johansson and Margot Robbie having two nominations each, it feels like spaces are being “used up that could be perhaps used for different and more diverse performances.”

Little Women director Greta Gerwig was nominated only for writing.

And as for a female director nominee, many have argued for Greta Gerwig, whose adaptation of Little Women has been praised by some but slated as confused and dull by others. Gerwig has, though, been recognised with a nomination in the best adapted screenplay category, so she certainly hasn’t been ignored; could it genuinely be that her adaptation worked better on paper than on screen?

In any given year, the awards nominations can depend only on the available films, so trends would be more useful to consider than an snapshot of one year’s shortlist. BAFTA hasn’t nominated a woman for Best Director since Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty in 2013. But in the acting categories, only last year the Egyptian-American Rami Malek won Best Actor, while the black star Mahershala Ali was named Best Supporting Actor, with Viola Davis also being up for Best Actress, while the previous year, Daniel Kaluuya and Octavia Spencer were among BAFTA’s nominees. And in 2017, the British-Indian Dev Patel beat Mahershala Ali to the Best Supporting Actor prize, with Viola Davis in the running for Best Supporting Actress. You have to go back to 2015 to find the last year in which no minority actors were up for major prizes, suggesting that BAFTA’s 2020 white-list is more of an anomaly than a pattern.

And where BAFTA considers the future of the industry, this year’s list of nominees for its Rising Star award features Awkwafina, alongside two black actors, Blue Story’s Micheal Ward and Kelvin Harrison Jr, of Waves. Last year, three of the five nominees in this category were black,  including Harriet star Cynthia Erivo and Letitia Wright, who won. The award was won in 2018 by Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya and in 2016 by Star Wars star John Boyega, and other recent nominees have included Ruth Negga, Lupita Nyong’o and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, suggesting that now – as in the past – BAFTA is ensuring that minority actors get a look-in on awards night, even if their films don’t.

The American Academy has already tried to address concerns about a lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations by increasing its membership base, disproportionately favouring women and people from minority backgrounds. But it’s own record of minority ethnic acting nominees wasn’t bad, until two successive years of all-white short-lists rattled the industry. Whether this, or other, measures result in consistent recognition of women or ethnic minority talent in an appropriate proportion to the wider population – or should it be the proportion within the industry – it’s too early to tell, but taken in the round, regarding years like this as blips, perhaps the problem isn’t as deeply rooted as some campaigners fear?

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has less of a problem – perceived or otherwise – in this regard, because splitting its main awards into separate drama and comedy/musical categories opens up another ten acting nominee spots, increasing the chances of bringing diversity onto the shortlist. Although the built-in diversity of its membership – as its name suggests – can’t hurt the HFPA’s outlook in this regard.

But while the industry – in the UK and beyond – continues to look inwards, to try to address any diversity issues, in the short term, most attention will focus on the awards themselves so what of the nominations list itself.

Joaquin Phoenix will be hoping for an awards push from screening Joker in both Venice and Toronto
Joaquin Phoenix will be the man to beat in the Best Actor category

The front-runner is Joker, with 11 nominations, including for Best Film, Joaquin Phoenix as lead actor and Todd Phillips for directing.

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood each have 10 nominations, including Best Film, Best Directing and Best Supporting Actor.

The newly knighted Sir Sam Mendes has one of 1917’s 9 nominations for directing; it’s also in the running for Best Film, Best Cinematography and Outstanding British Film.

The other contender for both Best Film and Best Director is South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho for Parasite.

The Sir Elton John biopic Rocketman missed out in a seat at the top table, but it’s in the running for BAFTA’s parochial Outstanding British film, alongside 1917, Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, the Netflix drama The Two Popes, the documentary For Sama and unconventional black-and-white Bait.

Taron Egerton embodies the spirit of Elton John, rather simply doing an impression of him
Rocketman star Taron Egerton will be up against fellow Golden Globe winner Joaquin Phoenix in the Best Actor category.

Fresh from his Golden Globe dramatic actor win, Joaquin Phoenix will be a favourite for Best Actor, but he’ll face tough competition among BAFTA members from Welshman Taron Egerton, whose portrayal of Sir Elton John in Rocketman, earned him a Golden Globe too, in the comedy and musical competition. Another British actor, Jonathan Pryce, will be in the running for playing Pope Francis in The Two Popes. The other nominees are Marriage Story‘s Adam Driver and Leonardo DiCaprio, for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The leading actress contest will see Driver’s Marriage Story co-star Scarlett Johansson challenging Judy’s Golden Globe winner Renée Zellweger, alongside Little Women‘s Saoirse Ronan, Wild Rose’s Jessie Buckley and Bombshell’s Charlize Theron.

In the supporting categories, Theron’s co-star Margot Robbie is up against herself in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Little Women’s Florence Pugh, the Golden Globe winner Laura Dern, from Marriage Story, and her co-star Scarlett Johansson – this time for Jojo Rabbit.

In the longer term, the history books will just list the winners, but it’ll be a difficult few weeks for BAFTA to get through, on the diversity issue. You can imagine that America’s Academy might quietly nudge its voters to try to ensure they don’t find themselves in for the same kind of criticism; if the Oscars manage to avoid the problem, the finger will be pointed more directly at BAFTA, but if there’s a semblance of familiarity in the Oscar nominations – many BAFTA members vote on the Oscars too, after all – pressure will fall more widely on the industry to make changes.

BAFTA’s film committee chairman, the producer Marc Samuelson, said the industry couldn’t be forced to do anything but could be encouraged to push, inspire and help people coming in at the bottom end. In a statement, BAFTA said: “In many areas, our voting membership is more diverse than the industry. However diversity continues to be an issue that needs to be tackled urgently within the industry, and Bafta continues to work hard to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups through all of our activities.”

But this controversy is less about increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups at the bottom of the industry than it is about recognising more diverse practitioners at the top.

The BAFTA Film Award winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall on 2nd February from this full list of nominations:

Best film
■ 1917
■ The Irishman
■ Joker
■ Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
■ Parasite

Outstanding British film
■ 1917
■ Bait
■ For Sama
■ Rocketman
■ Sorry We Missed You
■ The Two Popes

Leading actress
■ Jessie Buckley – Wild Rose
■ Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
■ Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
■ Charlize Theron – Bombshell
■ Renée Zellweger – Judy

Leading actor
■ Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood
■ Adam Driver – Marriage Story
■ Taron Egerton – Rocketman
■ Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
■ Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes

Supporting actress
■ Laura Dern – Marriage Story
■ Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
■ Florence Pugh – Little Women
■ Margot Robbie – Bombshell
■ Margot Robbie – Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Supporting actor
■ Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
■ Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes
■ Al Pacino – The Irishman
■ Joe Pesci – The Irishman
■ Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

■ Sam Mendes – 1917
■ Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
■ Todd Phillips – Joker
■ Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
■ Bong Joon-Ho – Parasite

EE Rising Star Award (voted for by the public)
■ Awkwafina
■ Jack Lowden
■ Kaitlyn Dever
■ Kelvin Harrison Jr
■ Micheal Ward

Outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer
■ Bait – Mark Jenkin, Kate Byers, Linn Waite
■ For Sama – Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts
■ Maiden – Alex Holmes
■ Only You – Harry Wootliff
■ Retablo – Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio

Film not in the English language
■ The Farewell
■ For Sama
■ Pain and Glory
■ Parasite
■ Portrait of a Lady On Fire

■ American Factory
■ Apollo 11
■ Diego Maradona
■ For Sama
■ The Great Hack

Animated film
■ Frozen 2
■ Klaus
■ A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
■ Toy Story 4

Original screenplay
■ Booksmart – Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman
■ Knives Out – Rian Johnson
■ Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach
■ Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino
■ Parasite – Han Jin Won, Bong Joon-ho

Adapted screenplay
■ The Irishman – Steven Zaillian
■ Jojo Rabbit – Taika Waititi
■ Joker – Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
■ Little Women – Greta Gerwig
■ The Two Popes – Anthony McCarten

Original score
■ 1917 – Thomas Newman
■ Jojo Rabbit – Michael Giacchino
■ Joker – Hildur Guđnadóttir
■ Little Women – Alexandre Desplat
■ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – John Williams

■ 1917 – Roger Deakins
■ The Irishman – Rodrigo Prieto
■ Joker – Lawrence Sher
■ Le Mans ’66 – Phedon Papamichael
■ The Lighthouse – Jarin Blaschke

Costume design
■ The Irishman – Christopher Peterson, Sandy Powell
■ Jojo Rabbit – Mayes C Rubeo
■ Judy – Jany Temime
■ Little Women – Jacqueline Durran
■ Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood – Arianne Phillips

■ The Irishman – Thelma Schoonmaker
■ Jojo Rabbit – Tom Eagles
■ Joker – Jeff Groth
■ Le Mans ’66 – Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker
■ Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood – Fred Raskin

Production design
■ 1917 – Lee Sandales
■ The Irishman – Bob Shaw, Regina Graves
■ Jojo Rabbit – Ra Vincent, Nora Sopková
■ Joker – Mark Friedberg, Kris Moran
■ Once upon a Time… In Hollywood – Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh

Make-up and hair
■ 1917 – Naomi Donne
■ Bombshell – Vivian Baker, Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan
■ Joker – Kay Georgiou, Nicki Ledermann
■ Judy – Jeremy Woodhead
■ Rocketman – Lizzie Yianni Georgiou

■ 1917 – Scott Millan, Oliver Tarney, Rachael Tate, Mark Taylor, Stuart Wilson
■ Joker – Tod Maitland, Alan Robert Murray, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic
■ Le Mans ’66 – David Giammarco, Paul Massey, Steven A. Morrow, Donald Sylvester
■ Rocketman – Matthew Collinge, John Hayes, Mike Prestwood Smith, Danny Sheehan
■ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – David Acord, Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, Stuart Wilson, Matthew Wood

Best special visual effects
■ 1917 – Greg Butler, Guillaume Rocheron, Dominic Tuohy
■ Avengers: Endgame – Dan Deleeuw, Dan Sudick
■ The Irishman – Leandro Estebecorena, Stephane Grabli, Pablo Helman
■ The Lion King – Andrew R Jones, Robert Legato, Elliot Newman, Adam Valdez
■ Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Roger Guyett, Paul Kavanagh, Neal Scanlan, Dominic Tuohy

Best casting
■ Joker – Shayna Markowitz
■ Marriage Story – Douglas Aibel, Francine Maisler
■ Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood – Victoria Thomas
■ The Personal History of David Copperfield – Sarah Crowe
■ The Two Popes – Nina Gold

British short film
■ Azaar
■ Goldfish
■ Kamali
■ Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
■ The Trap

British short animation
■ Grandad Was A Romantic
■ In Her Boots
■ The Magic Boat