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Just over a year on from the reemergence of the dreaded #BAFTASoWhite hashtag following the 2020 nominations, the British Academy has revealed its 2021 film awards nominees and the crop of names and titles is almost unrecognizable in comparison, likely to be remembered — and celebrated — for those it did include rather than those left out.
Unveiled on Tuesday and landing after a comprehensive and humbling seven-month review and overhaul of the BAFTA film awards rules and regulations sparked following last year’s controversy, the 2021 list of nominees is — while not officially confirmed — undoubtedly the most diverse in the British Academy’s history.
“Yes, it has to be,” BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re really proud of this list, because it’s an excellent list. We’ve got more films nominated and excellent diversity … every nomination has earned its place.”
Among the many standouts from the nominations is the domination of female filmmakers in the directing category, ending its almost decade-long all-male run. Shannon Murphy (Babyteeth), Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), Jasmila Zbanic (Quo Vadis, Aida?) and Sarah Gavron (Rocks) took four of the six places up for grabs (increased from five as part of the rule changes). Also in a first, three of the nominated directors — Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), Lee Isaac Cheung (Minari) and Zbanic — are also nominated in the Film Not in the English Language Category.
Elsewhere, in an almost complete reversal of the 2020, where the performance categories were an entirely all-white affair, the 2021 categories features the most diverse mix of talent in BAFTA’s history, with two-third of the nominees from ethnic minority backgrounds. Young stars also mixes with old, with 21 nominees out 24 nominees getting their first BAFTA nominations (in the director category, three of the six are first-time nominees).
One of the biggest complaints to emerge from the 2020 nominations was that BAFTA voters simply weren’t watching enough films, thus giving those with the most momentum and marketing power the upper hand.
“That’s what kept coming out, because this isn’t about guaranteeing diversity, this is about guaranteeing that great work is seen,” says Berry.
As part of the rules overhaul, one of the main drives was to ensure that more submitted movies were being viewed, with voters given set films to watch in the first round and compulsory viewing of all films in the new longlist round. BAFTA also saw that all of the titles were made available on its new BAFTA View online platform. Since the start of the reviews process, the aim has been, according to BAFTA Chair Krishnendu Majumdar, to help “level the playing field,” not to guarantee a quota in terms of diversity but to make sure that all works were being judged so there was the “opportunity to be nominated.”
In a clear indication that this was having an impact, 2021 saw a record 50 different films nominated across all the categories, up from the previous high of 39.
“It’s a small statistic, but I think it’s quite significant,” says BAFTA Film Committee chair Marc Samuelson, who helped lead the review with Majumdar. Samuelson added that there had been more than 150,000 film views on BAFTA View.
But it wasn’t just the British Academy that was celebrating the nominations. Susanna White, vice chair of Directors UK — which had been one of the most vocal critics regarding viewership of films last year — was equally full of praise.
“Today’s BAFTA film nominations are really refreshing; for the first time they feel like a true meritocracy. In contrast to what we have seen in the past, this list isn’t about films that have had the most money spent on their campaigns — this is about the BAFTA membership recognising craft and talent across the board.”
White adds: “The playing field has been leveled.”
The U.K. arm of Time’s Up, which was also highly critical in 2020, says it too welcomes the 2021 list of BAFTA nominees.
“We are particularly pleased to see that four out of the six directors nominated in the director category are women, and that of those, one is also nominated for Film Not in the English Language, reflecting the diversity within these women,” says chair Dame Heather Rabbatts, who also notes the “range of diverse talent and people of colour” across the spectrum of categories.
“Time’s Up campaigns for change across the industry and these BAFTA nominations demonstrate how change can be achieved in a relatively short time, by us all working together,” she adds.
Away from issues of diversity, another noticeable addition among the nominees was for Nomadland in the sound department, which included the first BAFTA nomination for production sound mixer Michael Wolf Snyder, who took his own life last week and had suffered from depression for many years. He was 35.
“While our hearts break with Wolf’s loss, we hope it is a comfort to know that his spirit will live forever in every laugh he recorded, every breeze. … Wolf truly brought life to our film,” said the producers in a statement released Saturday.
Carolyn Giardina contributed to this article.
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