BAFTA Unveils Over 120 Changes Following Major Diversity Review Into Awards: "This Is a Watershed Moment"

BAFTA Award - Getty - H 2017
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A BAFTA Award

After a comprehensive and humbling seven-month review launched after this year's BAFTA Awards nominations and the subsequent uproar about diversity, the British Academy has made its biggest ever shake-up to voting, membership and campaigning.

The British Academy has announced more than 120 significant and wide-ranging changes across its voting, membership and campaigning process aimed at addressing the lack of diversity in the BAFTA Awards.

Hailed as a “watershed moment for BAFTA” by chair Krishnendu Majumdar, the changes were unveiled Thursday following the conclusion of the first phase of a comprehensive, eye-opening and, at times, painful seven-month internal and external review, launched in response to the controversy that erupted following the 2020 BAFTA Film nominations in January when all-white nominees made up the top acting categories and the director category failed to include a single female filmmaker.

The changes — considered the biggest BAFTA has ever implemented — includes the introduction of a new longlist round in voting to achieve greater diversity; increasing the nominations and making rule changes to several categories, including acting and directing; making film viewing compulsory for all voters in one round of voting; a significant expansion of BAFTA’s voting members that targets those from under-represented groups; and pushing screenings onto a new digital platform.

“This is a watershed moment for BAFTA. The Academy has never opened itself up like this before,” said Majumdar, who led the review alongside film committee chair Marc Samuelson and a specially formed steering group.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Majumdar described the changes as a “wholesale” and “interlocking,” claiming that they would make the Academy stronger. But he admitted that the discussions — which were had with more than 400 people from across the industry — had often been “incredibly uncomfortable” and that he and Samuelson had “broken down and wept” on several occasions after hearing first-hand testimonies from individuals who had been subjected to racism and discrimination. “I didn’t sleep one night,” he said.

Throughout the review, a wide array of potential alterations to the BAFTA awards that could impact diversity levels were debated and discussed, including quota levels and even a category solely dedicated to female directors. But ultimately BAFTA said the decision was made not to tell voters what to vote for, but to change the culture and make them more aware of their responsibilities.

“I think the keynote is that we're leveling the playing field,” said Majumdar. “That's what people wanted, people didn't want a guarantee of a quota in terms of diversity. They just wanted their work to be seen and then judged on a more level playing field, so then there's the opportunity and chance to be nominated.”

Among the key changes to the BAFTA Film Awards 2021 are:

- A new longlisting round of voting in all categories, making three rounds in total and giving members a longer time period to watch films. It will now also be compulsory for members to watch all longlisted films in the second round before voting. Following the nominations controversy in January, it was argued that many voters simply weren’t watching the lesser-known films.
- In the acting categories, the number of nominees is being increased from five to six. Actors can also now not be longlisted more than once in a particular category, but can appear in separate categories for separate performances. (In 2020, Margot Robbie appeared twice in the best supporting actress category).
- In the directing category, BAFTA’s directing chapter will rank the top 20, with the top eight female and top eight male directors making the longlist. A special jury will then select the final four directors for this longlist of 20, choosing two female and two male (from the next 10 ranked respectively). The number of final nominees will also increase from five to six.
- In the outstanding British film category, the number of nominations has jumped from six to 10, a move that should help alleviate previous concerns where major Hollywood titles (such as 1917 and Rocketman) have taken up nomination slots over independent British features. “10 will reach down to some considerably smaller, but brilliant films,” said Samuelson, adding that some of the feedback had been that they wanted the ceremony to feel more distinctly British. “And we think this is a really key way of doing that.”
- In an effort to prevent films with larger campaigning budgets from “dominating the conversation,” BAFTA will be discontinuing DVD screeners by 2020 and moving all films to its new BAFTA View digital platform, set to launch for the 2021 awards season. Distributor communication will also be further limited per title, with members now having to opt-in to receive DVDs, attend screening invites or receive trade publications during awards season.

Other notable changes include:

- BAFTA is aiming to add “at least” 1,000 voting members over the next two year, which would bring its voting numbers to 7,700. It said there “would be a strong focus on recruiting from under-represented groups.”
- The establishment of a Future Membership Group which will be focused solely on identifying future members from under-represented groups.
- A new survey aiming to further enhance BAFTA’s knowledge into the make-up of its members. As opposed to previous surveys, completion is required for film awards voting.
- All voting members are required to take part in “conscious voting” training, likely to be a video helping them to “navigate and recognize the wider societal influences that can impact the voting process.”

Next month, BAFTA will use the findings from the review to announce a series of significant changes to its TV awards, although these are expected to be far less wide-ranging than for film. A separate review into the games and children’s award will be conducted later this year.

Following the implementation of the changes, the steering committee is now set to stay in place, meeting quarterly to “ensure change is being delivered and on a continuous basis,” with BAFTA saying that its review will be an ongoing and constantly evolving process.

Jennifer Smith, head of inclusion at the British Film Institute, said about the BAFTA review: "I was pleased to be part of the BAFTA Review Steering Group; it is beneficial when the industry comes together to drive change. We are delighted that BAFTA continues to support the BFI Diversity Standards as we look to develop them further as a tool for the industry, with a key focus being the diversification of lead roles and creative leadership behind the camera. Inclusion should never be regarded as ‘a problem’ to be solved; true inclusivity is dynamic, it gives us vibrancy and depth and has to be the at the heart of our creative industries, that can only happen if we all examine and subsequently change systemic issues of bias and discrimination."