Blog: Talking About The 2020 Awards Season

Last Tuesday’s BAFTA awards nominations were an underwhelming disappointment – very white, very male, and very much in thrall to the Hollywood studios and the places where the Oscars are likely to go. Then Monday’s Oscar nominations, though fractionally better, were still not very thrilling to anyone with a real love of the depth and variety of what film can offer its audiences.

I always thought that BAFTA’s role was to promote the best of British talent, but recent years have seen it settle into more adulation of the obvious Oscar-bait films, at the expense of more diverse and, I would argue, more interesting fare.

Harried image
Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET, a Focus Features release. Credit: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

Officially BAFTA’s remit is to support the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally, to identify and celebrate excellence and to discover, inspire and nurture new talent. Tuesday’s nominations do celebrate excellence (I would argue against some choices but respect there are different views about this – I am not an admirer or either Joker or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but recognise diverging views on this). However, these nominations are not doing much to discover, inspire and nurture new talent. The best director nominations are four middle-aged, well-established white men plus, wonderfully, Bong Joon-Ho for the brilliant Parasite,while the best film nominations are the same five films. This is a year when it is not hard to think of numerous excellent films directed by women – just starting with the glorious Little Women, super-smart Booksmart, moving The Farewell, stunning Atlantics and swoon-worthy Portrait of a Lady on Fire, let alone Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir which was voted the best film of 2019 by Sight & Sound’s contributors.

1917, screening at Saffron Screen in February.

Similarly, the acting nominations are exhaustingly white and, as many have pointed out, seem to be for blonde women, with Margot Robbie and Scarlett Johansson, both of whom I admire greatly, ludicrously picking up two nominations each. It doesn’t take much to think outside the very narrow box and see phenomenal performances by Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Awkwafina in The Farewell, Mame Bineta Sane in Atlantics, Cynthia Erivo in Harriet, Lupita N’yongo in Us, Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers or, one of my understated favourites, Mei Yong in So Long, My Son.

Little Women – Showing at Saffron Screen in Feb

In terms of championing British talent, largely shutting out The Personal History of David Copperfield, a generous, warm-hearted Dickens adaptation by Armando Ianucci with Dev Patel gloriously engaging in the lead role, seems wilfully blinkered. Perhaps part II (which comes out this year) of Joanna Hogg’s incisive The Souvenir will get the attention sadly lacking in the awards arena from part I (apparently the film hasn’t even been submitted to the Oscars by A24 which, like the failure to submit 2017’s God’s Own Country seems to be wilful lack of confidence in stellar works). BAFTA have suggested a disappointment with the lack of breadth of the awards nominations, but perhaps the industry should be looking both at its voters (the Academy has intentionally recruited a more diverse range of members eligible to vote) and the discourse around cinema generally. It seems that many people still admire and reward the films most designed to gain attention with bold and showy cinematography (1917), big name actors (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and transformative performances (Joker, though why Phoenix’s superb performance in this film gets recognised by his, in my view, similar but better performance in You Were Never Really Here did not, suggests a higher regard for male directors and studio films).

David Copperfield – Showing at Saffron Screen in Feb

The Oscar nominations did a fraction more work, with nominations for the brilliant Cynthia Errivo for Harriet, for Parasite as Best Film, not just Best Foreign Language Film, and an excellent documentaries shortlist,

I hope BAFTA will look to solve this problem with a change of voter representation, tighter rules and advice and perhaps more jury intervention. But what can YOU do? My advice is to see as many films as you can and to make your own mind up, and to follow the independent cinema awards: the BIFAs in the UK and the Independent Spirit Awards in the US as well as the London Film Critics’ awards and, from the US, the recent National Society of Film Critics’ awards and the New York Film Critics Circle awards. Oh, and make sure you see Little Women!

Rebecca del Tufo is the Programming Manager at Saffron Screen and Royston Picture Palace
Twitter @BeccadT