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I’m very proud to be one of the American members of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, an organization I was invited to join in December 2020, just a few months after it concluded its “BAFTA 2020 Review,” which “began as a direct response to the lack of diversity in the 2020 Film Awards nominations.” So it is in the spirit of constructive criticism that I express my concern about the 2022 BAFTA Award nominations, announced on Thursday.
We have now seen two sets of BAFTA Award nominations since the organization undertook its 2020 Review, and at this point I think it is quite clear that there has been an overcorrection, however well-intended.
The current nomination process is complex and difficult to explain, but the bottom line is that the nominees for the directing and acting awards are now chosen almost entirely by small juries of 10 to 12 “industry experts put together by BAFTA, comprising of a diverse range of backgrounds, experience and age” — not all of whom even work in the field they are judging — with the mandate, reiterated “by pre-jury briefing and the jury chair,” “to address significant issues of underrepresentation in those categories.”
Prior to the juries weighing in, there is a largely semantic “longlist” vote, through which BAFTA’s general membership gets to express its preferences, resulting in a, well, long list of contenders — for example, 15 performances in each of the acting categories and 20 directors. But after that, gutters are added to the bowling lanes, so to speak, to make sure that BAFTA’s members don’t embarrass the organization.
For example? Of the 15 performances longlisted in each of the four acting categories by the sizable acting chapter of BAFTA, only the two highest vote-getters from each automatically become nominees. The remaining four slots are then filled by a jury — comprised of people who are not necessarily actors — which can elect to advance, say, the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th highest vote-getters if they feel that will result in the most presentable list of nominees. (The same is true for the documentary category, except that the longlist is chosen by a group of members from a variety of chapters who have opted-in to participate, whether or not they are documentary filmmakers.)
Perhaps the most shoehorned category is director. In the initial stage of the selection process, the directing chapter of BAFTA — comprised of actual directors — is asked to rank 17 male-directed films and 17 female-directed films. Then, the top seven vote-getters for each gender automatically advance to a longlist, and a longlisting jury picks, from the eighth through 17th highest vote-getters, three additional male directors and three additional female directors and advances them, too, resulting in a longlist of 20. Then a directing jury — comprised of people who are not necessarily directors — comes in and picks six nominees from the 20.
Of course it is important that people of every race, gender and nationality have a fair shot at garnering recognition. But largely disregarding the preferences of the membership is insulting, and mandating parity is just a cosmetic fix, not something that actually exposes and addresses underlying problems that may exist within the membership.
It would be one thing if the four or five highest vote-getters on a longlist automatically advanced to a nomination, and then one or two other longlistees were advanced by a jury of their peers. However, in guaranteeing the nomination of only one-third of the actors or directors that BAFTA’s members voted to nominate, the organization is signaling to the world that it doesn’t trust its own members to make wise and fair decisions at all. And if that is true, then what is the point of the organization and its awards?
As to the specific nominations announced Thursday …
The best film nominees are chosen by all of BAFTA, not by a jury, and therefore do tell us which films were actually very admired by the organization. As with virtually every other awards group, Belfast (which has been a huge, Spider-Man: No Way Home-level hit in the U.K.) and The Power of the Dog both made the cut, as did Dune, which, thanks to a strong showing in “below-the-line” categories, led all films with 11 total nominations. Additionally, voters nominated Don’t Look Up and Licorice Pizza. True, the two most diverse top-tier contenders — West Side Story and King Richard — were both left out. Is this the result of some sort of bigotry, or because they tell stories about America that resonated less with an organization comprised mostly of people in the UK, or something else? No one can say for sure.
Then we come to the acting categories, where, again, juries selected all of the nominees except for the two that received the most votes during the longlist phase. I think it is safe to assume that this is why, in the lead actress race, The Lost Daughter’s Olivia Colman, a hometown favorite, was left out of the final six, along with American SAG Award nominees Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and Jennifer Hudson (Respect), not to mention the SAG-snubbed American actress who played Princess Diana in Spencer, Kristen Stewart.
What’s particularly interesting to me about the lineup that was selected is it suggests tremendous strength for House of Gucci’s Lady Gaga, who, in all likelihood, finished in the top two, ahead of all of the aforementioned actresses. But who was the other actress who finished in the top two and automatically advanced? It could have been Licorice Pizza’s Alana Haim, CODA’s Emilia Jones or Passing’s Tessa Thompson — but my hunch is that it was Renate Reinsve, the star of the Norwegian film The Worst Person in the World, who I believe is coming on strong in the homestretch. And if Reinsve did indeed finish ahead of the likes of Colman and Kidman and Penélope Cruz (who was not even longlisted for Parallel Mothers), then she may very well be on her way to an Oscar nomination.
Leading actor is similarly fascinating. The highest-profile nominees are Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Leonardo DiCaprio (Don’t Look Up) and Will Smith (King Richard). One of those three men was not among the top two vote-getters, but got added anyway, over the likes of Tick, Tick … Boom’s Andrew Garfield (who may actually be the Oscar frontrunner) and Cyrano’s Peter Dinklage. Ironically, the jury system was introduced in no small part as a response to outrage that two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington had never received even a BAFTA nomination — and he still hasn’t, having been passed over this year, even with a jury, for his performance in The Tragedy of Macbeth.
The supporting actress field exemplifies the lack of cohesion which results from having different juries picking different awards. If The Power of the Dog is a best picture nominee, then how is Kirsten Dunst not a best supporting actress nominee? And if Colman isn’t a best actress nominee, then how is Jessie Buckley a best supporting actress nominee? (I think it’s great that Buckley is, but you see my point.) Of course, everyone expected Belfast’s Caitriona Balfe and West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose (also a nominee for the EE Rising Star Award, voted for by the public) to advance. And it’s nice to see that King Richard’s Aunjanue Ellis made the cut after being overlooked by the SAG Awards.
As for supporting actor, it is noteworthy that both of the eligible Power of the Dog actors, Kodi Smit-McPhee (another EE Rising Star Award nominee) and Jesse Plemons, got in — were they the top two vote-getters? It’s also noteworthy that only one of the two eligible Belfast actors, Ciaran Hinds, did. Beyond that, CODA’s Troy Kotsur added to his formidable nomination tally, while West Side Story’s Mike Faist and C’mon C’mon’s Woody Norman landed far rarer acknowledgment — even if Licorice Pizza’s Bradley Cooper and Belfast’s Jamie Dornan strike me as stronger bets for Oscar noms.
In the directing race, The Power of the Dog’s Jane Campion and Licorice Pizza’s Paul Thomas Anderson were included, as was universally expected — but somehow MIA somehow was Dune’s Denis Villeneuve! 11 noms, but not director? Go figure. And, like it or not, you can thank the jury system for keeping out Belfast’s Kenneth Branagh and West Side Story’s Steven Spielberg. The one wild-card BAFTA nom that actually could repeat itself next Tuesday when the Academy announces its noms: a slot for Drive My Car’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
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