The bikes are now in full swing in an awards season that is second to none. The campaign has started in earnest (see above) DatewayThe Contenders events, which are full of vibrant titles and talent, and the Gothams are already in the rearview mirror. Voting starts over at BAFTA headquarters today. The first longlists for each category will be published on February 4th.
In addition to disrupting the pandemic, the BAFTAs will take place in 2021 after a year of introspection at the award ceremony, which in 2020 received flak due to disappointing diversity numbers from its nominations. The organization, which has 10,000 members worldwide, including 7,000 voting for film, could hardly be accused of inaction under new chairman Krishnendu Majumdar, who took over as chairman in June. Significant changes have been made to the voting process – including longlists for all categories where gender equality is guaranteed for the best director and conscious voting videos for members – all of which are aimed at increasing diversity without going through the process in an inorganic way to disrupt. The actual impact of these tweaks will not be announced until after the nominations are announced on March 9th. “We don’t guarantee anything,” says Majumdar.
BAFTA merges LA and New York offices to become BAFTA North America
Dateway We met with Majumdar and Film Committee Chairman Marc Samuelson to discuss how these changes in BAFTA membership have played out and what plans they have to hold the April 11 ceremony during a pandemic.
Dateway: First, how is 2021 developing so far?
Marc Samuelson: There have actually been a lot of good films that year. We had 258 entries, which is almost parity last year. We want to find this moment to celebrate and highlight these films and the people who made them. We’re just not sure what they’re going to look like. If you split it up right, it’s about celebrating a good job.
Krishnendu Majumdar: When I heard these entries, I was very pleased. Obviously, some of these films have not yet been released, but they will be released for Film Not In The English Language and Documentaries during the funding period ending April 9th and April 30th [BAFTA has also announced that the Film Committee will accept appeals to allow for a delayed release of a confirmed entered title in the calendar year of 2021].
Our streaming portal opened in September and we already had 80,000 streams. That is a huge increase and we only opened the vote today. It’s already almost four times as many streams as in the entire season of last year. We also made DVDs for the last time this year.
Dateway: One change you made this year is to randomly assign 15 films that each voting member must watch in Round 1 in order to democratize the process. How did that go
Samuelson: We didn’t know what people would make of it, but it seems to have been very well received. We both had a lot of emails.
Majumdar: People think it’s really good because there is so much to see. If you find out, the number of people who vote between 350 and 400 times when each listing comes up is a real difference. We’re trying to level the playing field, there isn’t a single problem, there are many interlocking problems that have led to certain films being promoted more strongly – that can have something to do with marketing, press and big stars.
Samuelson: There are 258 films registered, nobody watches that many films. In the first round, the intervention is to get people not to just watch all of the famous films.
Dateway: How are you chasing this
Majumdar: On BAFTA View [the streaming platform] we see. Of course, when you watch them on DVD we can’t tell if you have it or not, but we trust members when they say they have it.
Samuelson: Voters have to say that they saw their 15 films. If someone wants to lie, there’s not much we can do, but we don’t believe that people will lie. We can already see the tremendous elevation in what people are watching, people are taking it seriously.
Dateway: How did you commit to the eligibility improvements this year?
Samuelson: First of all there is the date output. You cannot attend two different ceremonies. If people prefer to go into the next year, that’s fine. Every eligible movie has to be on the BAFTA Steam Portal by this weekend, but you don’t want members to see it if it’s not open to the public. So this is the April date.
In terms of publication, we just want the films to be exposed and rotated. It was a moving target because the cinemas reopened and closed twice. So it is problematic to fix them on cinema. Essentially, anything that had a legitimate, orderly streaming release intended for the cinema and clearly not a single television movie will be included this year. And we’ll check that out next year.
Dateway: Let’s talk about diversity. They created a series of “conscious voter videos” to alert members of unconscious bias before voting, including people like Duncan Kenworthy, Lennie James, and Gemma Arterton.
Samuelson: In our review, many people said they really wanted to be well informed about unconscious biases, and to understand this, other organizations have also made subconscious biases with their members. There’s this amazing woman, Huma Qazi, who is an expert on diversity and inclusion and has worked with us on this.
Majumdar: We also got some actors and people from BAFTA Elevate to stage some of these scenarios to illustrate the point about bias. They will be published tomorrow along with the vote. It’s not a silver bullet, they’re more tools. BAFTA only voted each year. We really respect our members and voters and don’t tell them how to vote. We’re just saying that we’re a little more conscious. It’s your voice – think about it.
Samuelson: The videos are fun and give you food for thought, that’s what it’s about.
Dateway: They also made some significant changes to the voting processes.
Samuelson: The most important thing is the new longlists. This applies to all categories. The first round ends on January 26th and we will announce longlists with 15 titles per category on February 4th. In your chapter, you will then need to watch all 15 of these longlist films if you want to vote on them. In a way, this means that the marketing and scope of the movie shouldn’t matter anymore. It levels the playing field when you’ve seen them all.
Majumdar: It also means that large numbers of films and performances will have a bit of BAFTA stardust recognized as being in the running, which is a good thing.
Samuelson: If the purpose of the awards is to promote films and talent it expands things as a lot of people can now say, “I was on the longlist for a BAFTA”.
Dateway: The categories directing and acting differ again this year.
Samuelson: Both now have juries. The director will actually have a 20-person long list that is balanced between the sexes. The jury will look at this and there will be six nominations that the entire membership will vote on.
Most of these jurors come from the board of directors or the film committee and are drawn up by the chairman and the BAFTA team. We have to avoid conflict and balance it so that it is diverse.
Majumdar: You have to have a variety of voices, not just ethnicity and gender. You will also be on Zoom this year for Covid which makes it easier for someone from Scotland, for example, to do so.
Samuelson: Nobody wants a nomination just because they are diverse. There are as many elements to acting as “diversity” could describe that there is nothing specific to it.
Majumdar: We discussed hundreds of hours and met over 400 people. The message was very strong – people don’t want to be there because of their skin color or gender, they want their work to be seen and judged on an equal footing. We were just trying to get more people to see a wider variety of work and we’ll see the quality reach the nominations.
We do not guarantee anything, we do not guarantee the diversity of nominations. But we create a level playing field. I hope we will have a number of nominations.
Dateway: You also conducted a survey to better understand the makeup of your membership and you were on a diversity recruiting campaign …
Samuelson: The aim is to add 1,000 members from under-represented groups over the next two years. We have invited around 300 so far. It’s still a very careful evaluation process. You have to be authorized. So far, 168 underrepresented groups have joined.
Majumdar: The diversity survey is still ongoing. In the past when we did it, 33% of members responded because it wasn’t mandatory. This time we say, “If you want to vote, you have to take the poll.” Right now, 86% of movie voters have already submitted their polls, and I have a feeling we’re going to go over 90%. For the first time, we have the best view of who our voters are. 73% of all global members responded. We’re going to slice and dice this data and examine where we are underrepresented as an academy.
Dateway: When will we see the results?
Majumdar: We’ll be publicly releasing it after February before the awards. At this point, we will also set the schedule for our new diversity goals. For example, it will be “50/50 gender by this date”. We have never posted goals before and this is really good, it will really stretch us.
Dateway: Everything remains a moving festival at the moment. How sure are you about the April 11th ceremony date?
Samuelson & Majumdar: That doesn’t move.
Majumdar: What we’re looking at are options for how many people can participate. The advice of the government changes from week to week. We could have 1,000, 2,000, 250, or nobody. We are planning several scenarios.
Dateway: What if the Oscars move?
Majumdar: Not necessarily. We want to be relevant and the further back you go, the further you get away from some films.