BAFTA Urged to Reform Voting System in Wake of Diversity Criticism

BAFTA Award - Getty - H 2017
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BAFTA has said there will be a "very thorough review" of the voting system following suggestions that it should adopt a jury method across the board for the first round.

The head of Brit filmmakers body Directors UK has called on BAFTA to overhaul its voting procedures in the wake of Tuesday's film awards nominations, which were widely criticized for seeing all-white nominees make up the top acting categories and failing to include a single female filmmaker in the best director category. 

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Andrew Chowns argued that the issue was not — as had been claimed by BAFTA — a lack of diverse films to choose from, but the voting method, which for many categories sees mass bundles of DVD screeners sent out to BAFTA members. 

With upwards of 80 to 90 screeners arriving in December, which Chowns argued was one of the busiest months of the year in the lead-up to Christmas, he suggested that there simply wasn't enough time for many to watch all the submitted films. As such, members would veer toward those from well-known filmmakers they knew of already — such as those by Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino — which would explain why certain pics dominated this year's field of nominations. 

"But they probably don't get around to watching some of the independent films," Chowns said, adding that the makeup of BAFTA's 6,700-strong membership "was not representative" with regards to BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) or female members. "So you've got a voting population that is already quite skewed, making its own choices about which films it's going to watch and which films it's going to vote for. So for me it's not surprising that the list ends up looking like it does."

Chowns' solution was for BAFTA to adopt a jury method across board for the first round of voting, using panels that had been "carefully selected by BAFTA" to be representative. 

Currently, the first round sees all BAFTA members get a vote in the categories of best film, leading actress, leading actor, supporting actress and supporting actor, which arguably this year produced the most contentious results.

The craft fields see members of those specific chapters vote on the nominees. Only the two British categories — outstanding British film and outstanding debut — alongside the new casting category involve a jury, all categories that Chowns said had managed to produce the most diverse list of nominations. 

Using a jury method for first round of voting, he asserted, would mean that nominees would be more considered and comprehensive, and were it to be put back to the entire membership for round two would be far less daunting.

"Once you've done round one, you've whittled down that intimidating box of around 80 DVDs to something more like 15," he added. 

BAFTA has itself expressed its frustration at this year's list of nominations, with chief executive Amanda Berry stating she was “very disappointed” with the lack of diversity. 

Speaking to THR about the voting system, BAFTA's film committee chair Marc Samuelson said that the Academy would now conduct a "very thorough review where everything is on the table."