#BAFTAsSoWhite: U.K.'s Biggest Film Event Again Lacks Diversity

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"If Denzel was a white actor and British, he'd have how many nominations by now?" asks the founder of The British Blacklist about snubs for the 'Fences' star and 'Moonlight' director Barry Jenkins.

While President Donald Trump may have put matters of race and racism atop most of the world's headlines with a few strokes of his executive Sharpie, over in Hollywood — just a year after diversity dominated the debate — the subject thankfully has simmered. As most agree, #OscarsNotSoWhiteAtLeastNotThisYear.

But across the Atlantic, it seems the BAFTAs — which now mirror the Oscars more than any other film awards — haven't quite been keeping pace.

It's unfair to suggest that BAFTA didn't get the diversity memo. A new rule announced in December will ensure that by 2019 only films conforming to the British Film Institute's Diversity Standards will be eligible in two categories: outstanding British film and outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer. Even without the changes, 2016's nominations overall show an improvement on previous outings (Naomie Harris, Viola Davis, Dev Patel and Mahershala Ali got supporting noms, up from zero nonwhite faces in 2015). But in the best director, best actress and best actor categories, it's a rather pasty affair once again. Case in point: Denzel Washington. The director and star of Fences maintained his long-standing tradition of avoiding a long-haul transatlantic flight (Oscar noms: eight, BAFTA noms: 0) by failing to make the best actor or director grade at this year's event.

Washington and Moonlight's Barry Jenkins complete a combo of snubs that THR awards analyst Scott Feinberg says "stinks worse than week-old fish and chips" (actually a delicacy in many parts of the U.K.).

"If Denzel was a white actor and British, he'd have how many BAFTA nominations by now?" asks Akua Gyamfi, founder of The British Blacklist, a database of black creatives in the U.K. "But my real bugaboo is Amma Asante being ignored for A United Kingdom. I don't understand it."

Although the British director's well-received period piece starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike missed Academy eligibility due to Fox Searchlight's later release date, the film — which opened the London Film Festival in October — did qualify for the BAFTAs (but missed the handy Oscar buzz). Interestingly, Loving, another talked-about historical drama about a controversial interracial marriage, also missed out. While its lead Ruth Negga was somewhat of a surprise addition to the Oscars best actress shortlist, the most the Irish-Ethiopian actress could manage on (almost) home turf was a nomination in the rising star category.

"I'm trying to be positive, because it is markedly better than before," admits Gyamfi, pointing to Ava DuVernay's 13th in the documentary section and The Hard Stop, a documentary examining the events surrounding the London riots in 2011, which earned an outstanding debut nomination.

The Hard Stop's producer Dionne Walker admits that she's largely pleased by the BAFTA nominations, although Jenkins' omission does stand out. "It's a strange one, because the acting that comes through with all the film's characters is quite special, and that comes from the director," she says. But while BAFTA's most recent analysis showed that its makeup of members was more diverse than the Academy's, change is afoot to mix it up even more.

In late 2016, the requirement for a proposer and second was removed from the membership application process to help ensure that it's only talent — and not personal connections — that gets the right people into BAFTA. "It's a great start," says Gyamfi, who admits there's some fatigue in discussing the diversity issue. "But there's also jubilation that there's better recognition this year. I can actually take The Hard Stop, plus Dev Patel and Naomie Harris representing the British contingent, and not be so peed off that Denzel or Jenkins aren't there."

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Meet the BAFTAs' New Old Venue

After 10 years at the Royal Opera House, BAFTA will make a detour for its 70th edition, due to refurbishments at its regular venue. Naturally, this being London, it's to another world-famous piece of architectural history: the vast Royal Albert Hall (about a 30-minute Uber ride from the event's usual home). Named after Queen Victoria's husband (currently played by Tom Hughes on PBS) and famously namechecked by The Beatles in A Day in the Life, the hall with the distinctive red brick exterior arguably is the U.K.'s most iconic venue. It also ups the seating capacity from the Opera House's 2,256 seats to more than 5,200.

But besides a few more attendees and a potentially longer restroom queue, guests can expect a couple of other notable changes.

Once inside, any peculiar props or decorations likely are to be Cirque du Soleil's. The circus' Amaluna actually is in residence there until the end of February and has given up two shows on Feb. 12 to squeeze in the BAFTAs. But the awards are working around the Cirque du Soleil sets, with performances from the acts during the ceremony. "We could never really have made this work without the support of the circus," says Royal Albert Hall's head of programming Mehdi Aoustin-Sellami.

And in 2018? The Opera House likely will demand the return of its prized asset. "But who knows?" says Aoustin-Sellami. "I won't close the door. We'd love to have them back." 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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