The Baftas And Diversity


‘Where the Baftas go the Oscars follow’ parroted the journalists this week, but it’s not strictly true. For many years the Baftas could not be mentioned in the same breath as the Oscars. It was an underpowered industry closed shop. The ceremony was linked to a lengthy dinner, as in any other industry, so by the time gongs were handed out the room was often surly and half-cut. It lacked professionalism and pizazz.

Change was needed. Bafta expanded regionally, encouraging young filmmakers and recruiting a much more diverse membership in terms of age, race and gender. It got rid of the ceremonial dinner and repeatedly shifted the date ahead of the Oscars. It drew firepower.

Why, then, did this year’s most astonishing films like ‘Waves’, ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Atlantics’ get no traction with the voting members?

One factor to consider is the way we vote. The process is geared towards balance (you can only vote for films you’ve seen, and vote in specific categories) but the order in which we see films becomes crucial as time runs out.

The heavy-hitting studios are first off the blocks with a roster of screenings followed by streamed private-access films and DVDs. It’s a big cost for the small independent release companies, but they get their films out as quickly as possible, not necessarily on such a wider scale.

Over Christmas I was faced with 146 films to see. Luckily I had seen a great many already, but many were unknown quantities. The first two films I watched were ‘For Sama’ and ‘The Cave’, and I immediately wanted them to win. But voters know that star-free low-budget films face impossible odds against ‘Joker’ or ‘The Irishman’, especially when there can only be one overall winner; awards events have built-in absurdity. If you’ve missed their screenings you have to wait for the film’s appearance via the Bafta portal, and suddenly you’re watching a small, well-intentioned parable about economic migration against ‘1917’. The films arrive randomly, so that this year ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ turned up after most of us had voted (not that it was ever going to win).

Sam Mendes’ war film feels like a direct descendent from the days of Richard Attenborough and David Lean, a grandly conceived and finely crafted epic made with British talent. Although the Baftas are a global ceremony they’re also about national excellence, as are the Oscars or any awards ceremony with the possible exceptions of Venice and Cannes, which feel genuinely global. The Oscars certainly is not; it feels as if the gongs are being handed out by elderly cinema owners in Texas.

The problem I had with many of the smaller films is not that they’re rougher-edged or star-free (quite a relief) but that they’re often flawed in one or two aspects, and you overlook the flaws to find the greater good. You will them to succeed, and that means voting for them over the odds.

Voters ultimately head toward the mainstream and make painfully obvious choices. If there’s a period film in which everyone’s wearing huge wigs you can guarantee it’ll win Best Hair & Makeup, overlooking the subtleties that went into making wigs for ‘The Irishman’. Soundtrack awards avoid brave, unusual scores in favour of traditional orchestras, and showy turns get rewarded – ‘Judy’ had a star turn but it was far from being the only one – where were the awards for ‘Marriage Story’ or ‘Harriet’?

It’s a learning curve. The fact that ‘Parasite’ scored higher than the treacly ‘Little Women’ shows that the journey is being undertaken.

15 comments on “The Baftas And Diversity”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    “Treacly” Little Women. Do you blame the script writer or the original author? Of course, treacly is of the period. Should we not make films of stories with out of date writing even though young people are still reading them? They’ll make back their investment of course.

  2. admin says:

    It was intelligently adapted, gracefully styled, and moved through the required scenes in a stately fashion, like a pastel, scented Hallmark production. I kept waiting for them to sing.

  3. Richard says:

    Probably a non-film buff point of view, but I’m interested to see how ‘Le Mans 1966/Ford vs Ferrari’ does in the awards system.. If it does anything at all. It’s very much within my area of interest, yet its massaging of the truth didn’t bother my anorak self at all (Rush didn’t either). Plus it had some big stars acting very strangely, which I also enjoyed. It’s no Steve McQueen’s Le Mans, as that was more art house than Hollywood, but I think the quirkiness outweighed the Hollywood standard plotting.

  4. Peter Tromans says:

    Richard – It makes no sense, but the presence of cars automatically excludes the film from receiving any credit in the ‘art’ world. Treacle, horses, spaceships, submarines – all fine, but cars no!

  5. Richard says:

    Ha! I agree Peter. Although, imagine watching Vin Diesel’s speech on getting best actor for Furious9. Have any car films done well at the awards? American Grafitti must have done.

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    Genevieve won a BAFTA for Best British Film & a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.


  7. Richard says:

    Thanks Wayne. I love that film!

  8. Ian Luck says:

    (A man in a bowler hat, suit and furled umbrella)
    (Incandescent) Genevieve? Best foreign film? Tommyrot! It’s not even remotely foreign. It’s British!

  9. Peter Tromans says:

    Wayne – I’d forgotten that. Wonder if the age of the cars allowed it to squeeze past the exclusion?

  10. Helen Martin says:

    The whole “foreign” award at the Oscars infuriates me. It’s as if American films are best by definition and all others are “attempts”. It’s like a pat on the shoulder and the remark, “Good on you for trying.” Except an American couldn’t say that.
    So Little Women was a good representation of the source book. In that example “treacly” is good.

  11. Ian Luck says:

    Helen – it’s just like the American ‘World’ Series. That features only teams from the USA. I’ve always found that both amusing and very slightly sad.

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, Ian, not that complaint again! The “World” series was originally sponsored by a newspaper of that name and the name was kept. Like the “Daily Mail Football Series”. Oh, do the teams e-mail their moves like a chess-by-mail match? Not that I don’t imagine there are no American baseball fans who would always insist it should be a USian competition only.
    Someone pointed out to me that the Oscars are presented by an American Arts organisation so they can do it in any way they like. I heard an item on our news in which an eligible Oscar voter said that Sam Peckinpah should get an Oscar just on general principles and that no woman should ever get a director’s Oscar. No, the person’s name was not given.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    To be frank, I hate all the back-slapping of awards ceremonies. It’s so very, very false. A lot of people who win, it was pointed out to me, seem never to do well again. It’s like the UK Mercury Music Awards – if you win one, then your career often careers into the abyss. It’s very odd.

  14. snowy says:

    To understand today, we need a historical context.

    We are living in the middle of slow revolution.

    We have now entered the phase of the revolution where the Hard-liners seek to eradicate the Moderates. This is particularly dangerous, because there are usually only two outcomes; Totalitarianism or Counter-Revolution.

    ‘Diversity’ has become a totalitarianism of thought, [“Right-Think’]. Anybody that raises any objection, [however well founded] is branded as Counter-Revolutionary and marked for destruction.

  15. snowy says:

    I wish I had the moral courage to post the full version of the previous comment, but the whole topic is so toxic I dare not, even here.

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