Well, well, well friends, it’s that time of year again. That’s right — we’re down to the last 40 days before the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Film Award submission deadline (Oct. 23, for any of you enterprising British filmmakers out there). With the new rules in place, BAFTA is making it clear they strive to be the exact opposite of #OscarsSoWhite.
For those of us less familiar with this groundbreaking precedent as well as the BAFTAs themselves, let me provide a little context. BAFTA is an independent arts charity known for their annual film, television and games awards. Their president is Prince William, but otherwise BAFTA membership is made up of anyone in the entertainment industry who works in British productions. According to the BAFTA website, its mission is to bring “the very best work in film, games and television to public attention, and support the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally,” and its work “identifies and celebrates excellence, discovers, inspires and nurtures new talent, and enables learning and creative collaboration.” But for most audiences, the BAFTA is simply the British Oscars or another excuse to give endless awards to Maggie Smith for existing.
Another striking similarity the BAFTA has thus far had with the Academy is their lack of diversity in film awards and nominations. In the past 20 years, the only notable win for a representative film has been 2009 Best Film winner “Slumdog Millionaire”. For the BAFTA, there was no envelope mix up in 2017 — though “Moonlight” was nominated, it was “La La Land” (or “La La Bland”) that won.
However, in a dazzling display of commitment to inclusivity and representation, the BAFTA announced June 19 feature films must meet at least two of four diversity standards:
- On-screen representation, themes and narratives
- Project leadership and creative practitioners
- Industry access and opportunities
- Opportunities for diversity in audience development
It is really important to note these standards address every step of the filmmaking process — from non-discriminate audition casting to underrepresented groups receiving key roles behind the screen as directors, screenwriters and producers, from creating opportunities for under-represented groups to advance in the entertainment industry through mentorship and promotions to ensuring films are accessible for all audience members — the BAFTA is demanding that diversity and inclusivity be the norm.
If I hadn’t already made it clear, I am very excited for these requirements. As a Brown woman in the audience, I’m hoping the films meet standards A and B most. I want my representation to be as visible as possible on the largest possible screens with stories that haven’t been told before with directors and writers familiar with the material because it is their own experience as well. I hope introducing these standards means that films like “Crazy Rich Asians” aren’t one-offs and that films like “Get Out” get the award recognition they deserve. The BAFTAs are considered one of the best indicators of Oscar winners — I’m hoping this inspires the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to adopt these standards for their own awards. And while there’s a part of me that doesn’t like that it takes rules and legalese from prestigious award entities to encourage our film landscape to reflect the rich stories of marginalized communities, the rest of me is happy to take this as a win.
So what does this mean when I watch the BAFTA Awards show in February? Hopefully fewer awards for Benadryl Cucumber (no hard feelings, Sherlock, you’re just oversaturated in the current film and television scene) and more for my man Riz Ahmed. Or Idris Elba. They both look excellent in suits.