Lack of diversity lamented at British film awards as war epic 1917 wins big
Gut-wrenching First World War epic 1917 was the big winner at Sunday’s British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs), winning seven awards including best picture and best director.
Sam Mendes’s homegrown drama bested hotly tipped American contenders Joker, The Irishman and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood at a glitzy London event that was overshadowed by criticism of the nominees’ lack of diversity — even from some of the nominees themselves.
Director Mendes based 1917 on his grandfather’s wartime experiences. Shot in sinuous long takes that immerse viewers in the action, it follows two British soldiers on a perilous mission across no man’s land to try to avert a suicidal offensive.
1917 was also named best British film and won the cinematography prize — Roger Deakins’s fifth win in that category. It also took the prizes for production design, sound and visual effects.
Joaquin Phoenix was named best actor for Joker, and Renée Zellweger took the best actress prize for the Judy Garland biopic Judy.
Victory at the BAFTAs is often a good predictor for the work that will be recognized at Hollywood’s Academy Awards, being held this year on Feb. 9. Like the Oscars, the British awards this year were heavily male and white.
No women were nominated as best director for the seventh year running, and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories were white.
Phoenix slammed the lack of diversity in his acceptance speech, saying it sent “a very clear message to people of colour that ‘You’re not welcome here.”‘
Awards organizers called it “disappointing” that there were no performers of colour among the acting nominees, who are chosen by 6,500 academy members who work in the U.K. and international film industry.
The rising star award — the one trophy decided by the public — went to black British actor Micheal Ward.
British star Cynthia Erivo, who is Oscar-nominated for her performance as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in Harriet but was snubbed by Britain’s Academy, declined an invitation to perform at Sunday’s award ceremony in protest.
The British Academy has promised to review its voting procedures.
“We’ve announced a wide-ranging review. We’re going to be looking at everything across the board in terms of the awards process,” said BAFTA chairwoman Pippa Harris.
“But also I think it’s fair to say this is an industry-wide issue. It takes everyone to look at what they’re doing,” she said. “Awards are right at the end of a whole process, and so we need to look at the types of films being made, the opportunities that people are getting, how the films are being promoted. All of these things play a part.”
Presenting the best-director award, Australian actress Rebel Wilson quipped that she could never achieve what the nominees did: “I just don’t have the balls.”
Scarlett Johansson, a best-actress nominee for Marriage Story, said the lack of recognition for female directors was disappointing.
“So many women made great films this year. And I think it just goes to show you that there is a systemic problem that is very prevalent. And it’s something that I think we’re aware of but have to continue to fight against and make greater strides towards.”
Hours before the event and several miles away, three people were wounded and a knifeman shot dead by police in what police called a terrorism-related attack. The BBC cancelled plans to broadcast interviews from the red carpet on its news channel as a result.
Brad Pitt was named best supporting actor for Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.
He didn’t attend, but sent a jokey acceptance speech, read out by his co-star Margot Robbie
“Hey Britain — heard you just became single. Welcome to the club,” he said — one of several references during the ceremony to the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, which became official on Friday.
Pitt also referenced recent tumult in Britain’s Royal Family, saying he was going to name the trophy Harry, “because he’s really excited about bringing it back to the states with him.”
Laura Dern was named best supporting actress for playing a take-no-prisoners divorce lawyer in Marriage Story. She noted that her mother, Dianne Ladd, had won the exact same prize in 1975, when Dern was six, for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Bong Joon-ho’s Korean-language drama Parasite was named best foreign-language film and also took the prize for best original screenplay
The Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes star Andy Serkis — the maestro of motion-capture acting — was handed a prize for outstanding British contribution to cinema.
Falling two days after Britain left the European Union, the evening couldn’t avoid the subject of Brexit.
“We know it’s been a hard week for you guys and it’s very nice to take a little bit of your gold, back home — where it belongs,” joked New Zealand director Taika Waititi as he collected the best adapted screenplay prize for Jojo Rabbit.