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Steve McQueen slams BAFTA homogeneity

Award-winning director says British film awards risks becoming obsolete if it fails to recognize diversity

The Guardian

British director Steve McQueen poses with the award for best film for 12 Years A Slave at the BAFTA awards on Feb. 16, 2014.

Photo: AFP

Steve McQueen has said the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) risks becoming irrelevant, redundant and of no interest or importance unless it undergoes reform to avoid a repeat of this year’s nominations where there was a lack of diversity in many of the principal categories, including all the main acting awards.

The director, who has won two BAFTAs — one for his debut feature film Hunger in 2009 and another for best film in 2014 for 12 Years a Slave — said that the British film awards could become obsolete if it fails to recognize diverse talent.

“After a while you get a bit fed up with it,” he said. “Because if the BAFTAs are not supporting British talent, if you’re not supporting the people who are making headway in the industry, then I don’t understand what you are there for.”

“Unless the BAFTAs wants to be like the Grammys, which is of no interest to anyone, and has no credibility at all, then they should continue on this path,” he added, referring to the criticism of the Grammys for consistently snubbing black talent. “If not then they have to change. Fact.”

McQueen said there was a vast amount of British talent that could have been nominated this year including Marianne Jean-Baptiste for In Fabric, Joanna Hogg for The Souvenir, Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, and Daniel Kaluuya for his performance in Queen & Slim. “But not even just British talent, it’s talent in general,” he said, using the example of Lupita Nyongo’o not being nominated for Jordan Peele’s Us. “It’s crazy.”

In response to the backlash on Monday last week after the nominations were announced, Marc Samuelson, chair of BAFTA’s film committee, called the lack of diversity infuriating and said the awards could not make the industry do something about it. His comments echoed BAFTA’s deputy chairman, Krishnendu Majumdar, who said the lack of female nominees in the best director category was an “industry-wide problem.”

McQueen said the argument that the lack of nominations could be explained as mostly an “industry problem” was nonsensical. “When these films are being made to critical acclaim, they’re not even being recognized — that’s nonsense.”

The director’s comments follow a week of criticism for BAFTA, which announced on Thursday last week that it would undergo a review of its voting system after another year when its main acting awards will all be competed for by white talent. In 2018, a report revealed that 94 percent of all BAFTA film award nominees had been white.

The criticism also came before the Oscars nominations on Monday, which has its own long history of diversity issues. In 2015, the Oscars — along with all the leading film and music awards — were heavily criticized for a lack of diversity among nominees, only 12 months after a “breakthrough” year when 12 Years a Slave won best picture. In 2016 — after another year of all-white nominees in the acting award, which led to a threatened boycott by Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Will Smith — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it would review its membership process. The Academy eventually pledged to double female and minority members by this year.

Todd Phillips’s superhero film, Joker, led the BAFTAs field this year with 11 nominations, with many films featuring ethnic minority and female talent missing out, including The Souvenir and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women — neither of whom featured in the all-male best director category.

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