British stars unveil alternative Bafta list in film diversity row

Vanessa Thorpe

A group of leading British stars and film directors, including Gemma Arterton, Carey Mulligan and Joely Richardson, are to speak out this week against the lack of diversity in the films and talent to be celebrated during the entertainment industry’s annual awards season.

“While there are some great films and outstanding performances nominated, there have been glaring omissions,” said Dame Heather Rabbatts, chair of the Time’s Up UK campaign.

Each star has been asked to contribute to an alternative list of Bafta nominees to be unveiledon Monday.

“I would give a Bafta nomination to Lorene Scafaria for writing and directing Hustlers said Mulligan, while Arterton has voted for the Olivia Wilde film Booksmart. “I can’t believe it didn’t get any nods, especially for the acting and first-time director,” she said. “Same goes for The Nightingale and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Other supporters have spoken out for director Greta Gerwig’s hit Little Women, nominated for a best film Oscar, and for Joanna Hogg’s admired British film The Souvenir.

Best actress and actor votes went to Cynthia Erivo, who plays abolitionist Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmon’s Harriet and who is nominated for an Oscar, and to Daniel Kaluuya for Queen and Slim. Richardson kept it in the family by choosing to nominate her own mother’s performance opposite Timothy Spall in Mrs Lowry & Son.

Rabbatts said that the campaign intends to ensure that the awards do not pass without “raising the profile of those whose endeavours and performances have not made it to the nominations”.

“This is not about taking away from the talent that has been nominated,” she said. “We congratulate all of those nominated and we all know the hard work and total commitment to achieve this accolade. But alongside them there are others who should be standing on that carpet.”

Lorene Scafaria, writer and director of ‘Hustlers’. Photograph: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

She said she hoped other actors and directors would “join with us in celebrating the rich and diverse roster of talent before us. This ‘invisibility’ is even more shocking given the choices which were available and the strength of films and performances where black talent was apparent this year.”

The hotly tipped films dominating both the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the Oscars ceremonies this winter, taking place in London next Sunday and in Los Angeles on 9 February respectively, are largely concerned with male lives, and directed by men, from Todd Phillips’ blockbuster film The Joker, to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, James Mangold’s Ford vs Ferrari and Sam Mendes’ British first world war hit 1917.

Earlier this month the Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen was among those to greet the Bafta nominations with dismay. He said that the event now risked becoming irrelevant, unless it underwent radical reform.

The black 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 had failed to recognise diverse talent.Speaking to the Observer this weekend, Mendes said he agrees that there has been an apparent reversal in recent welcome moves towards a more inclusive film industry.

“I sat there at the Oscars in 2002 and watched Denzel Washington and Halle Berry win their awards, and Denzel paid his respects to Sidney Poitier, who was receiving a lifetime achievement award,” said Mendes. “It felt like an extraordinarily positive moment. And since then it has gone backwards. And we all have to be super-vigilant now about not letting that happen.”

Mendes suggested in his defence that not only was his a film about a male-dominated conflict, but it was also hard for individual filmmakers to see the broader picture each year. “My story, of course, was mainly about men this time, but behind the scenes we made sure we met every diversity criteria. And even on-screen were extremely conscious of reflecting the faces of everyone of different backgrounds who were involved in the conflict, even if they would not have all been fighting side by side. It didn’t matter to me in the storytelling, but it did matter that we were making the maximum effort to reflect diversity, even when it was not historically accurate.”