BAFTAs caught in the diversity row

Priyanka Mehta Tuesday 14th January 2020 15:24 EST

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) is now compelled to review its voting process following widespread criticism over lack of diversity in many of the principal categories, including the lack of female directors or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) actors being nominated. This is the second consecutive year when the awards have been confronted in the light of white prejudice following a 2018, a report which revealed that 94% of all Bafta film award nominees had been white. Bafta faced a similar criticism in 2017, and had pledged to do more to achieve "seismic" changes.

The awards body has now confirmed that it would consult with various sources and listen to recommendations from industry members, with any changes to be put in place before voting starts for the 2021 awards. However, diversity in the industry of performing arts and film is not just a issue concerning with Bafta and Oscar nominations. Some BAME actors have spoken off their struggles in breaking through the mainstream film industry owing to the cultural barriers and racial prejudice. Banita Sandhu is a Welsh-born Asian actress and star of Bollywood film October. In an interview last year with the Asian Achievers Awards she had said,

“The term "diverse representation" has catapulted in the last five years, as we are finally seeing more BAME artists on screen. But I still don't think there are enough minority writers who are given the green light by producers and studios. Often times, stereotypes derive from those who don't actually understand our experience and if that is what is being written onto screen then audiences are also incapable of doing so, including myself as a British Asian woman.

“I still, to this day, struggle with my cultural identity because I grew up with few authentic stories about our community. On top of that, as an actress I often find myself frustrated with the lack of three-dimensional roles available for British women of colour. I struggle to fit into their version of what a British Asian women is because it's written and casted by those who actually don't understand who British Asian women are. Cultural imagination can be so limited that I actually lost out on a multitude of opportunities as a teenager because of my skin colour. Therefore, whilst it's great that we are finally seeing more ethnic actors booking jobs - I would like to see the same happen behind the scenes for a more authentic and empowering representation of the BAME community on screen.”

Banita had been unemployed for a long time even after the success of her Bollywood debut October. She now describes the dilemma she faced in those days where she felt like she had to choose between Bollywood and Hollywood. She says,

“I almost had an existential crisis where I didn't know who I was or if I'd ever work again because of it. In the midst of it all, I came across an Amy Adam's interview where she described going through the exact same thing. When the interviewer asked what changed for her, she said she began to "focus on the work" and worried less about who she was, or if she had made it, or what kind of actress she was establishing herself to be. I followed her footsteps and later signed an Indian film and American TV series the same year. I guess what I am trying to say is, have patience but keep actively honing your craft - if that means going back to acting class or hiring a coach, learning a new accent, or even something as simple as watching a film a day; the tides are turning and there are plentiful opportunities brimming for actors like us, it's just about being ready for when they finally present themselves.”

At present the voting process for Bafta awards is divided into two rounds. The first is to determine nominations from specific “chapters” – made up of specialists from Bafta’s 6,700 members – choosing nominees for categories such as best director, score and screenplay. However, the four main acting categories (leading actress, leading actor, supporting actress, supporting actor) are nominated by the full membership.

“Not a SINGLE person of colour was nominated at the BAFTA's this year. They could have nominated Lupita, Awkafina, Zhao Shuzhen, Jennifer Lopez, Cynthia Erivo, Antonio Banderas, Eddie Murphy, or any one of the Parasite actors, they didn't,” tweeted Aayaan Upadhyaya, an aspiring British Indian author whose tweet received over 800 likes and 200 re-tweets.

Some BAME actors have and academics have now suggested it was time for an equivalent #MeToo moment on race in the UK film industry and that changes to Bafta’s voting process might not make a sustainable difference.

Now Bafta's deputy chairman, Krishnendu Majumdar, said the lack of female nominees in the best director category is an "industry-wide problem" and that Bafta is "fiercely doing something about it".

He is first BAME individual to hold the position in its 72-year history when he was appointed for the chair last year. He has also chaired learning and events committee from 2006 to 2010 and also sits on the Pact council and has sat on the board of Directors UK.

Earlier, journalist Sarfraz Manzoor had also taken to Twitter and echoed his frustration with directors such as Gurinder Chadha not being nominated for her recent movie Blinded by the Light. He tweeted,

“I am biased obviously but BAFTA nods for Viveik Kalra and Gurinder Chadha would have been fully deserved and made the nominations list less embarrassingly pale #BAFTASSoWhite.”

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