How BAFTA is tackling its diversity problem

Off the back of a successful 2021 awards, BAFTA’s Krishnendu Majumdar and Anna Higgs discuss how the academy is levelling the playing field for everyone – and what other awards can learn from its example

Cast your mind back to this time last year and you may remember, amid the daily deluge of Covid-related headlines, a particularly damning news story about one of the most important events on the film calendar, the BAFTAs. The awards show faced a fierce backlash after it failed to recognise a single non-white leading actor in its 2020 nominations list, with #BaftasSoWhite swiftly trending on social and prominent industry figures speaking out against the lack of diversity.

A year on, and the results of the 2021 awards look markedly different. Chinese-born filmmaker Chloé Zhao’s docudrama Nomadland scooped best film, best director and best actress for Frances McDormand’s part; Emerald Fennell’s rape-revenge nightmare Promising Young Woman took home best original screenplay and outstanding British film; and Bukky Bakray, the real-life schoolgirl turned star of social-realist adventure Rocks, was revealed as the worthy winner of this year’s Rising Star award.

The systemic problems with awards isn’t just a BAFTA issue; the debate around the need for greater representation has been raging across the creative industries for a good few years now. Only in February, the Golden Globes was the subject of a social media storm after it snubbed Michaela Coel’s earth-shattering series I May Destroy You entirely – leading one of the writers on Netflix’s not-so-groundbreaking nominee, Emily in Paris, to write about the unjustness of the result.

BAFTA’s 2021 rising star, Bukky Bakray, taken by this year’s official photographer Greg Williams

BAFTA’s journey to unpacking its diversity problem began in 2018, when it announced that in order to be eligible for the awards, filmmakers would need to demonstrate that they have met the BFI Diversity Standards. Under the reign of producer-director Krishnendu Majumdar – the first person of colour to be appointed chair in the Academy’s 73-year history – this work has been hugely accelerated.