BAFTA Nominations: Do Snubs of Denzel Washington, Barry Jenkins Merit #BAFTAsSoWhite Scrutiny?

THR's awards columnist notes that it was a big day for 'La La Land,' but the noms were marred by the egregious omissions of the 'Moonlight' director and the 'Fences' leading man.
Paramount/Screenshot
Denzel Washington in 'Fences'

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts announced its nominees for the 70th BAFTA Awards early Tuesday morning. The group best known for bestowing the British equivalent of the Oscars included among its 20 acting nominees Moonlight's Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, Fences' Viola Davis and Lion's Dev Patel, all in its supporting categories. (Harris and Patel are both British.) And yet, after reviewing the organization's full list of nominees, it's very hard to argue that it doesn't have some sort of a race-related problem.

That's because two top-tier Oscar contenders who happen to be American-born people of color weren't even nominated in categories they might well win at the Oscars on Feb. 26: Moonlight's Barry Jenkins in the best director race (even though Moonlight was nominated for best film); and, in the best actor race, Fences' Denzel Washington. A six-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner, Washington, it turns out, has never been nominated for a BAFTA. (Neither has Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, perhaps the only active black actor more revered than Washington.)

That stinks worse than week-old fish and chips, and BAFTA surely knows it. They already were exploring better ways to handle diversity when last I checked in with them in April. Clearly, they haven't cracked that nut yet.

The news was far better for La La Land, which, two days after making history at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards, landed a field-leading 11 nominations from another group of non-American voters — but that was basically expected. What was less assured was the tremendous showing by the next-best finishers, Arrival and Nocturnal Animals, two Amy Adams vehicles that bagged nine noms each. Arrival is up for best film; as it was at the Globes, Nocturnal is not up for best film, but it still landed noms for best director and best adapted screenplay (both Tom Ford), as well as best supporting actor (Globes winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson) — and Jake Gyllenhaal in the best actor category, presumably taking the slot that could have gone to Washington.

I, personally, was delighted to see I, Daniel Blake, a great little movie entirely overlooked since its Palme d'Or win at Cannes back in May, register in a big way, with noms for best film, director (Ken Loach) and supporting actress (Hayley Squires).

MIA from the noms were Isabelle Huppert, the best actress (drama) Golden Globe winner, if only because her film Elle wasn't released in the U.K. in time to be considered this cycle. That also explains the absence of several other contenders, including the animated/foreign double-threat My Life as a Zucchini, and the presence of several that were eligible for Oscars last season but only this cycle qualified for BAFTAs, such as Son of Saul and Mustang, either of which could prevent Oscar frontrunner Toni Erdmann from winning BAFTA's best foreign-language film award.

BAFTA and SAG agreed on four best actor nominees — La La Land's Ryan Gosling, Manchester by the Sea's Casey Affleck, Hacksaw Ridge's Andrew Garfield and Captain Fantastic's Viggo Mortensen. Gyllenhaal, rather than Washington, filled out the category.

The best actress race wound up looking exactly as it does at SAG: joining the usual suspects — La La Land's Emma Stone, Jackie's Natalie Portman, Florence Foster Jenkins' Meryl Streep and Arrival's Amy Adams — will be Emily Blunt for The Girl on the Train. Considering that film currently possesses a 43 percent favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it's more than a little bizarre that Blunt was picked over the likes of 20th Century Women's Annette Bening or Loving's Ruth Negga or Hidden Figures' Taraji P. Henson.

SAG nominated Manchester by the Sea's Lucas Hedges in the best supporting actor category, but BAFTA did not, giving his slot to Taylor-Johnson. The two groups agreed on the other four nominees: Moonlight's Ali, Lion's Patel, Hell or High Water's Jeff Bridges and Florence Foster Jenkins' Hugh Grant. Grant, at this point, really looks like a probable Oscar nominee.

And, in the best supporting actress category, BAFTA seconded SAG by singling out Fences' Davis, Moonlight's Harris, Lion's Nicole Kidman and Manchester by the Sea's Michelle Williams — but opted for Squires over Hidden Figures' Octavia Spencer, another person of color, who has received Globe and SAG noms for her performance.

It must also be noted that BAFTA omitted from all categories Martin Scorsese's Silence.

BAFTA and the Academy are roughly the same size — each has around 7,000 members — and are thought to overlap on about 500 names. That's a fairly sizable sample size, meaning that BAFTA's groupings could well be repeated when Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 24.

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