Leading figures from across the UK film industry have responded to an invitation from Screen to offer their opinions of what they believe the Bafta Film Awards can now do on a practical level to produce a more diverse and socially representative set of nominations by gender and race for 2021.
We invite everyone to join this public debate, either in the comments section below or by contacting the editorial team directly.
Daniel Battsek, director, Film 4
“It feels like Bafta has two issues to address: producing a more diverse and socially representative set of nominations, but also producing a set of nominations that better champion British film. If Bafta’s voting system was less prone to anticipating the Oscar nominees and better geared towards recognising the most accomplished and well-liked British films of the last 12 months, films like Blue Story, The Souvenir and The Personal History Of David Copperfield, that would in itself produce a more representative set of nominations.
“I’m sure Bafta will be reviewing their categories, membership and voting system. Adjusting their voting system is arguably the most efficient way to introduce change quickly. BIFA has done great work in recent years to increase the role of juries in selecting the films that are put forward for voting, to ensure that all the films are seen by enough voters that they have a chance to compete, and to weight voting so that smaller, independent films aren’t simply steamrollered by the studio and streamer films with larger promotional budgets.”
Efe Cakarel, founder and CEO, MUBI
“Bafta has made many steps towards diversifying its members and awards over the past four years, but there is still work that can be done to ensure that the voting group is representative of society and the voting process is even for contenders.
“Bafta should be transparent about the makeup of its members and publish the findings of their diversity surveys. If we all know which areas need addressing, we can help encourage others to apply for membership.
“Bafta also needs to ensure the Film Awards voting group meets certain diversity standards and not only its overall membership base, as it’s a smaller subsection of members that are involved in the film nomination and voting process.
“Funding could be provided to support small and independent studios and distributors”
“If Bafta doesn’t already know, they should identify the barriers to applying for underrepresented groups. For example, it could be the cost. They could reduce or waive the joining and annual membership fees for those that can’t afford it.
“The voting and nomination process should be examined again. Bafta has a strong international profile but Hollywood productions dominated 2020 nominations and Bafta should reassess how it can champion British and independent film as well as it has before.
“The campaigning rules are strict, but currently, large studios and distributors will always have the advantage of having bigger budgets to promote their films. Their films will generally have higher awareness amongst members as they can host multiple screenings, run major publicity campaigns and produce and send DVDs to members, which are considered preferable as members are known not to like using digital links.
“To address this, funding could be provided to support small and independent studios and distributors that can’t finance screenings for Bafta members. DVD distribution could also finally be banned so that all films are provided digitally - and the process becomes more environmentally friendly overall.”
“There are fundamental problems with voting members being able to vote without bias, which is where I think the diversity issue lies. Members have too much choice each evening during “the season” and as a distributor, we see a drop off of at least 50% for every screening we hold – and we rarely see these no shows at future screenings.
“I would welcome a cap on screenings from Bafta – ie you can only screen up to a certain number of seats (like 3,000 or so) so that Bafta members know they have to commit to attending a screening they have RSVP’d yes to. That’s step one – if there’s more of a commitment to actually see the films on the big screen you may find that voting is more diverse.
“I also feel the voting membership desperately needs a reshuffle. This is an industry of all ages, all sexes, all ethnicities however when I looked back at my audiences during Q&As with campaigning talent the audience was one dimensional – white, affluent males mostly, with white female guests, mostly over 40.
Maybe the films we showed only attracted that audience to see in person, however that means other members aren’t seeing everything that’s available to them, and therefore are not voting without bias.
“I wonder if there should be a cap on numbers or a push for membership in under-represented groups so that it can be more balanced, and therefore diverse. Should Bafta be courting membership applications from people they want to have a voice from – I think yes. They should open up their members cap, or brutally cut their members who no longer are active in the industry to make way for a more balanced membership list.
“There’s a wider issue of having a more diverse release slate -that conversation has to start at financier and producer level. Do we need to start having conversations around tax rebates for a more diverse crew for example? That’s way beyond my level of expertise but I feel something that drastic needs to happen in order for the industry to have a more representative slate each year.”
Deena Wallace and Amy Gustin, executive directors, BIFA
“No awards system is perfect, and our voters can only judge what’s been made in a given year, but we’ve worked hard to make sure that all the aspects of the process that are within our control are as representative and fair as we can make them.
We’ve been active in inviting a diverse body of film professionals to join our voting group and a broad range of filmmakers to enter their work; we’ve asked all of our voters to take part in unconscious bias training (with the support of ScreenSkills); we make sure that every film is seen and discussed by a minimum number of voters; and we take into account how many people have seen a film when we calculate votes.
“Of course not everything that we’ve done would work for Bafta - they have more than 10 times as many voters as us and their remit is different - but we’re proud of the results that our process has produced over the last few years.
Zak Brilliant, founder of Republic Distribution
“Aside from the recruitment of more representative members, I think it would be beneficial to make the nomination process much more chapter and jury focused, for all categories. Work could then be done to ensure these chapters and juries reflect the whole UK demographic. Then the wider membership could vote to decide the winners, on the condition they’ve watched the films.”
“I do not think members should vote to create the nominations. Members should vote on the nominations to find the winner. I don’t know a single Bafta member who watches all the movies. You get 80 or 90 DVDs in December. Who has the time to watch one a day, that’s 30 movies, let alone 80? We had a film in contention this year that was disappointingly not nominated. The amount of senior Bafta members who told me they didn’t get a chance to see it… You can’t get votes from people who don’t see the movie. You are focusing quite rightly on representation, gender and race, but it’s a bigger problem than that.
“I do not think members should vote to create the nominations”
“Chapter voting to create nominations in the technical categories is great, but the production designers still have a duty to watch all the films eligible in production design, and if they are busy working that isn’t possible. I know I am talking about problems rather than solutions, but it’s got to start by Bafta acknowledging the scale of the problem. Something needs to be done. The British categories which are more jury-based are not perfect, but they are working better.”
Seetha Kumar, chief executive of ScreenSkills
“Building a more diverse and socially- representative set of nominations and workforce by gender and by race is for the whole industry to solve - not just Bafta and we stand ready to help. The key issue, and what we all need to grasp, is what we should all be doing more effectively to find, support and nurture a greater diversity of talent off as well as on-screen.
“We need to embed diversity and inclusion in the industry at every level and we need to work in a unified way to support their progression and retention. On a really simple level, we at ScreenSkills could build on all the programmes we run already and do more if everyone contributed to the Skills Funds that support our work.”
Rebecca O’Brien, Sixteen Films
“Bafta has put a lot of effort into supporting up and coming women and BAME people in the film industry. Now it is up to the voting membership to broaden the range of films that they watch. It’s good that you’re not allowed to vote unless you’ve seen the films but I think Bafta could take a leaf out of the Ampas book in terms of how this is policed. The big problem is that the mainstream films are still largely non-BAME and directed by men and because these films have bigger marketing budgets they’re more likely to have a broader viewership, make more money at the box office (although female-led films tend to have impressive box office statistics when they do get made) and therefore be more “visible” to voters. Very difficult to see how Bafta can create a level playing field without serious industry support.”
Robert Beeson, founder, New Wave Films
“The main problem is that working Bafta members are a bit time-poor, so whatever the make-up of the membership, inevitably gravitate towards watching those films they have heard of. Which will be those being actively campaigned by distributors with the biggest pockets.
“Only some kind of jury system putting forward titles that may have been unjustly ignored can rectify this – something on the lines of how the US Academy’s shortlist of international films works.
“Given they have the option of abstaining, I suspect the number of members voting in round one to produce the nominations is an awful lot less than those voting on the nominated films, so it’s not that anti-democratic for a jury to intervene at the round one nomination stage.”
“Just looking at the membership isn’t the whole problem. There is a direct correlation between the most nominated films to the most visible awards campaigns. We all know that those that lobby hardest get noticed (1917, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, Joker, The Irishman). Maybe it’s worth digging into how representative that side of the process is.”
Mark Cosgrove, cinema curator, Watershed Cinema
“Those with the economic power get their products onto Bafta members’ radar whether through advertising, paid for screenings etc. The effect of this economic imbalance I think skews everything. Bafta should provide a mechanism to ensure that a wider range of films get space, platform and profile for members’ attention.
“I don’t know how it works at the moment but I know what it means to watch five or six films a day. I can imagine Bafta members getting a whole load of screeners and with time constraints naturally going for those ones with high recognition factor. More active lobbying for the economically marginalised through specialism advisory groups and/or ambassador campaigning & advocating.”
”The membership needs to be more diverse, but they also need to always make sure there is a person of colour on the Film Committee. I used to co-opt ‘diversity’ which included practitioners, as often there were none - other than producers - so it’s important the Film Committee is ‘diverse’ or inclusive. It needs to be properly representative, as does the membership. It needs to be looked at properly every year regarding the timing of releases and how Bafta can help highlight some of these films that may have later releases, or not be getting the same distributor backing.
“Having been part of the old jury system, they are not the answer I don’t think. People have their own agenda way too often. Where, for instance, was Blue Story this year? It didn’t even make a showing at the BIFAS.”
Liz Miller, Premier PR
“This is such a fraught issue, in the film business as in every business and as it is in virtually every aspect of our lives. Most of us believe (I hope and trust) that things are gradually improving and universal awareness of the problem is a good start. Predictably, our progress is agonisingly slow but perhaps this is something best explained by evolutionary biologists.
“Fairness and righteousness do not determine the outcome of the Baftas or the Oscars any more than they influence any matters of taste. Voters ultimately vote for the films and performances they liked best and you simply cannot tell people what to like.
“In my many years of campaigning, I’ve always known that the best I can do is to encourage voters to watch the films and this I have always done via nothing more than a combination of passion, enthusiasm and epic wheedling. How the voters actually vote when they are alone with their consciences and computers, I cannot say.
“Perhaps it’s time to gently steer the voters in new directions at the nominating stage”
”Now, given that the voters cannot be told what to do but can only be gently steered in the direction of a film and its filmmakers and given that fair play doesn’t enter into a contest where heavyweight boxers are pitted against librarians and you are asked to say whether you prefer oranges to Mozart, how do you ensure that the underrepresented represent.
“I suspect that the only way is for Bafta to issue a ‘corrective’ as it does in the category of Outstanding British Film where half of the nominees are chosen by self-selecting voters and the other half by a Bafta committee which ensures that films with a lower budget or lower profile are included.
“Some filmmakers might argue that they don’t want or need ‘affirmative action’, a hand up; some might argue that others should not be afforded any preferential treatment. But given that this is not a race determined by who crosses the finish line first and in the absence of any significant self-correcting on the part of the voting membership to include those who are consistently and unfairly excluded, perhaps it’s time to gently steer the voters in new directions at the nominating stage.”
”There is a big question mark over who the membership is and who is actually voting in the categories; is the membership itself diverse and socially representative? The academy could really benefit from opening up to a younger membership from a variety of backgrounds
“One of the key points to consider is how to ensure all voters are actually watching all the films? There is a huge volume of content to watch over a short period of time and currently there is no real way to track whether members are watching every eligible title. anecdotal evidence would suggest that voting members are making personal choices to prioritise the films they want to watch and consequently every film isn’t given an equal opportunity.
“Ultimately we also need to get back to the root of the problem – actually having films made by diverse and socially representative filmmakers. Perhaps there is more that Bafta can be doing to support filmmakers and also an educational push/programme to ensure that people know that these jobs in the industry exist and are accessible (or should be) to everyone.”
Anonymous PR exec
“There is no simple “quick fix”, and it is unrealistic to expect a 75-year-old guild with many thousands of members to pivot overnight. Bafta appears to be aware of that and is making every effort to address it.
”Ultimately the opinions of a more diverse and socially representative group of members will reflect a more diverse array of films when it comes to nominations. But that does not happen overnight. Bafta should, therefore, continue its efforts to broaden the overall demographic of the membership, but without lowering entry standards and devaluing the guild. This means not only supporting initiatives to encourage and facilitate entry to the industry to a more diverse cross-section of society who may otherwise experience barriers, but also then to support and help them maintain a career and progression within the industry to ultimately warrant a place within Bafta. That is a long, but vital, strategy.
“I would also like to see the “Best British Film” category made mandatory, not opt-in. We are the British Academy after all and it would be good for all members to be involved in that decision.
“On top of that, of course, I am sure there are adjustments that can be made to voting procedures involving juries, chapters, online screener tracking etc which Bafta’s detailed review will identify and which will result in smaller, but quicker, results.”
Crispin Lilly, Everyman Cinemas
“I think a shortlist of 20 films for each category should be come to by canvassing a vote across representatives from distribution and exhibition… this part of the industry has the most comprehensive exposure to the widest range of films as anyone. I’d also say they’re closest to the audiences too - a voice that I get annoyed is often forgotten.
“A panel of 20/50/100 elected representatives from across the sector should then be split across the categories with each one voting in each category being required to see the 20 films for each.”
Various contributors, Dogwoof
“My first point is a very obvious one. The 6,500 membership needs a massive shake-up. It’s still largely and predominantly white, middle/upper-class Caucasian men of a certain age, and the Bafta nominations in recent years sadly have been indicative of the voting body.
“Bafta needs to review its members and consider new applications to see if they adhere to either the BFI diversity rules. There is a massive need for women, especially BAME women to diversity and make Bafta more inclusive.
”Unconscious bias training should be required”
“They should also bring in some questions on socio-economic status like the BBC do with their recruitment process which I think is INCREDIBLE. Not everyone is from private school/rich backgrounds and some form of monitoring about upbringing, education, parents’ salaries etc (anonymous of course), is really needed to ensure a fairer working-class voting body. Similarly with LGBT+ as well.
“Unconscious bias training should be required before being eligible to vote and the voters should represent the British population more closely (i.e. 50% women, 15-20% non-white)
“There should be a spending cap on campaigns, allowing filmmakers who may not have this advantage to have a fairer chance
“Cheaper membership! Especially for younger people and from diverse economic backgrounds.”
Neill Bhatt, DDA
“Bafta has made very positive strides to diversify its voting membership this year and that they should continue at a similar pace in forthcoming years. What we don’t want is for membership to be granted with a lower bar, just because someone is of a specific race or gender so the membership diversification needs to be done in a sensible manner.
“For me, Bafta’s job isn’t to produce a socially representative set of nominations. It is to properly represent the spread of talent in the industry by gender and race. The job of properly representing society is the industry’s and therein lies the key issue as far as I’m concerned.
“The Bafta voting membership can really only give awards to the best films, actors, filmmakers that it is presented with. If it starts to give out awards to fairly represent a gender or racial spread, it devalues the awards for everyone, including the very minorities it is trying to support.
“The onus needs to be on the industry to support and create a more representative spread of talent than those who are currently lucky enough to have been able to break into the industry.
“Bafta’s job isn’t to produce a socially representative set of nominations”
“For me, a key consideration is about the barriers to entry to people from more disadvantaged backgrounds and that cuts across all jobs within the arts overall. It is too hard financially for a lot of people (myself included when I was first starting) to work on the kind of low or non-existent salaries that are paid for entry-level positions. Only those with some means behind them are able to take the time to work themselves up while coping on low wages and that in itself makes it very hard.
“In terms of what Bafta can do to help this situation, I believe it should use its position in the industry to support access for people from more disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds and for women returning to work from maternity leave for example - potentially through scholarships, grants, bursaries or funds.
“I do think there is also an issue with voters only voting for films that they have chosen to watch. A more diverse membership who have all ideally undertaken unconscious bias training (in the model that BIFA have recently pioneered) is the best way to even the playing field and give all entered films the best chance. Perhaps it will also be possible in the future for the criteria for voting on categories to be stiffened to ensure members do actually watch all films – perhaps the online portal will be a good way to move towards that in the future if views are trackable.”
Joan Parsons, head of Queens Film Theatre, Belfast
“[I would like to see] transparency on voting procedure, voter pool (including demographics of the voters). [Bafta should also] identify areas of poor representation in voter pool and take measures to address – regional representation, socio-economic representation.
“Keep the voter pool changing, don’t simply allow people to be voters for life, maybe set a maximum term before someone needs to wait a few years and come back.
“[There should be] smaller, more manageable voting categories (a bit like how BIFA split into categories) – matched to the expertise of the voter, particularly in craft categories.
“And voters must commit to watching ALL films before they can vote – this could be shortlisted in groups before categories were open to everyone so that the workload is manageable.”
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