The last 24 hours have been a whirlwind for film fans and awards watchers, as three very consequential voting bodies shared their awards shortlists, and therefore their predictions for who will triumph at the Oscars next month. The Producers Guild nominations were arguably the most important, as they have predicted 21 of the past 30 Best Picture Oscar winners, but it is the nominations presented by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts that have rocked the industry.
The scandal of this year’s BAFTA nominations was the utter lack of anyone who wasn’t white in the acting categories. Filling the Best Actor category were Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Taron Egerton (Rocketman) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood). This has been the toughest category overall, although other voting bodies have made room for Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory) or Eddie Murphy (Dolemite is My Name). It’s in the other categories where the snubs are more egregious. The Best Actress category saw nominations for Charlize Theron (Bombshell), Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Saoirse Ronan (Little Women), Renée Zellweger (Judy), and Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose). Notably shut out of the category was Lupita Nyong’o, who swept the critics awards with her performance in Us, and Awkwafina, who just claimed a Golden Globe for The Farewell (she was nominated for the Rising Star award). The most shocking snub was of Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo: not only has she been a perceived contender since before awards season began with multiple other nominations, she’s very British. Nominating her was a no brainer, but she was passed over (to make matters even more insulting, Variety reported that BAFTA asked Erivo to perform at the ceremony; she rightfully declined after the nominations were announced).
Somehow, the nominations get even more ridiculous. Look no further than the Best Supporting Actress category: Scarlett Johansson (again) for JoJo Rabbit, frontrunner Laura Dern for Marriage Story, Florence Pugh for Little Women, Margot Robbie for Bombshell, and Margot Robbie for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Yes, Margot Robbie is competing against herself, with a role where you could count the number of lines she had on one hand, within a three-hour movie. Contenders who were passed over? Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers, or Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell, if we’re looking at ones with real momentum behind them. Instead of considering them, the BAFTAs decided that two white double nominees made more sense.
Of course, Margot Robbie and Scarlett Johansson are not at fault; the BAFTAs are most certainly are. Whatever lessons gleaned from #OscarsSoWhite and its British equivalent have been promptly forgotten, or never learned in the first place. As I outlined above, there were several performances by actors of color that have been recognized by other awards bodies, so there is no excuse for the British Film Academy to be incapable of nominating at least one. The fact that they saw fit to nominate two white women twice instead of offering a slot to an equally deserving actress of color is an absolutely unforgivable disgrace.
Interestingly enough, the BAFTAs agree. CEO Amanda Barry described the lack of diversity within this year’s nominations as “hugely disappointing” and has pledged to “double down on [their] efforts to affect change”. When you consider the BAFTAs’ history towards actors of color, the promise rings hollow. Only 6% of the awards’ acting nominees have been nonwhite. While performers of color have claimed wins in the last decade or so (Rami Malek and Mahershala Ali won last year), no actress of color has won Best Actress. Last year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Regina King was snubbed for If Beale Street Could Talk (her slot went to, of all people, Margot Robbie for Mary, Queen of Scots). Despite being a two-time Oscar winner and one of the most celebrated actors of our time, Denzel Washington has never even been nominated. There have been institutional issues within the voting body that has allowed films and performances from people of color to be ignored or overlooked, and even in this era of greater cultural awareness and appreciation, those issues remain.
What makes the BAFTAs’ complete rejection of a diverse slate of nominees so concerning is how much influence they have over the Oscars. There is significant overlap of BAFTA members and members of the Motion Picture Academy, and the BAFTAs are considered a significant Oscar prognosticator. While a double category nomination isn’t possible, it is entirely possible that the Academy could follow the BAFTAs’ lead and set themselves up for another #OscarsSoWhite controversy. It would be another year where the film industry reaffirmed their disinterest in stories that aren’t white, and their refusal to make any real steps towards progress. I wish I could say that this year’s slate of BAFTA nominees are a fluke, or that they really, really like Margot Robbie (who doesn’t?), but people of color have decades of history that support our skepticism. Even if it were, everyone deserves better: the nominees who were snubbed, the audiences of color who are being signaled to that their stories aren’t worthy of recognition, and the BAFTAs themselves.