BAFTA Commits to Diversity

By  · Published on December 21st, 2016

The British Academy announces new initiative to prioritize diversity at their annual awards ceremony.

I know that the word “diversity” pops up again and again in the world of film and television, but it is more than just a buzzword. Representation of marginalized communities both off and onscreen is always worth talking about, especially when conversations lead to systematic change.

The BBC reported that the British Academy of Film and Television Arts has released new criteria for films hoping to compete in the Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer categories at the BAFTA awards (otherwise known as “the British Oscars”). Films will have to demonstrate that they have made an effort to include diverse talent both behind and in front of the camera: in their themes and narratives, in audience development, in creative leadership, or with industry access/opportunities.

This initiative, along with the news that BAFTA is changing the admission policy for panel judges for the awards ceremony, new applicants will no longer need two recommendations from existing members. These changes open the door for talented, qualified candidates, whereas previously entry was based on knowing the right people.

The groups specified by the Academy include women, people of color, differently abled people, economically disadvantaged people, and folks across the LGBTQ+ spectrum (and of course, any intersection of these identities). To members of these communities, it has always been clear that the entertainment world is much easier to navigate as a white person, a male, a straight person, or as someone who is able-bodied. BAFTA is formally acknowledging this, and working towards long-lasting changes with their new initiative.

John Boyega and his Rising Star BAFTA

Last year, the brilliant April Reign summed up the lack of diversity during awards season with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Mic spoke to Reign regarding BAFTA’s new initiative, and she stated that she is “very encouraged” by the news. She also said: “It appears that BAFTA was very thoughtful about their approach and has implemented a system that will be self-sustaining”.

She also made the important point that it is not a quota system – the point is not to include diverse films just because they include marginalized voices, but to recognize that there are incredibly talented filmmakers all over the globe who have not had the same opportunities as their more privileged contemporaries. In the case of BAFTA’s initiative, that means celebrating films made by established filmmakers, as well as providing opportunities for those new to the business.

Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made their changes to include more women and minority members earlier in the year, it is not clear whether they will adopt any new policies similar to BAFTAs. There are many award hopefuls this year. These films tell the stories of Black men and women, gay men, and economically underprivileged people – Hidden Figures, Fences, Loving, and Moonlight, to name a few. Although these films depict a broad range of the human experience, it does not erase the fact that marginalized voices few and far between in Hollywood. BAFTA has made an incredible step towards equality and diversity in the film industry, and hopefully, other awards institutions follow suit.

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Actual film school graduate from Toronto. Always thinking and writing about queerness, feminism, camp, melodrama, and popular culture.