BAFTAS 2017 – TBB Reflects On BAFTA’s Black History Ahead of Tonight’s Awards

SO the 2017 BAFTA awards take place tonight with a healthily diverse slew of nominations. A few upsets here and there with the ignoring of A United Kingdom and its talent director, Amma Asante and leading actor David Oyelowo. We’re also a bit baffed at why Denzel Washington and Barry Jenkins were ignored in the Best Director – both, and Best Actor – Denzel categories.  With #AwardsSeasonNotSoWhite  we reflect on BAFTA’s diversity accountability – it’s been patchy at most.

Back in 2014 Chiwetel Ejiofor broke BAFTA history for being the first ever British AfriCarib man to win Best Actor. Before Ejiofor only 3 Black men have won Best Actor – Forest Whittaker in 2006 for his role as Idi Amin in the Last King Of Scotland; Jamie Foxx in 2006 for his role as Ray Charles in, Ray, and Sidney Poitier (who did get numerous nominations) finally won in 1958 for  his role as Noah Cullen in Defiant Ones. Before Ejiofor no other British AfriCarib man has ever been nominated.

Steve McQueen also broke a little bit of history that same year, because prior to 12 Years a Slave winning Best Film, no film made by a black person had ever won. ***Just been alerted by friend of TBB, filmmaker Victoria Thomas, that in 2005, writer and director Amma Asante was awarded the Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer in their First Feature Film for A Way of Life – which is great, but not Best Picture and her subsequent films Belle and as mentioned A United Kingdom, have been ignored. But in general BAFTA has preferred to award black themed films instead. In 1959 British made Sapphire won in the Best British Film category.  Sapphire is a Crime drama which focused on racism towards immigrants from the West Indies in London. Black themed films in the Best Film category include, the British made but set in Ghana The Boy Kumasenu was nominated in 1953. The film is about a boy Kumasenu who moves to the city of Accra from a small fishing village. Along with, British made Outcasts of the Island about a disgraced Englishman who finds himself lusting after the daughter of a Chief on an indistinguishable race of natives (TBB analogy) nominated the same year.

In 1956 Carmen Jones was nominated in the BAFTA Best Film category.  The operatic musical about Love, passion, betrayal and tragedy is adapted from the legendary opera by Bizet and was groundbreaking for its time with its all African American cast. It also launched the career of Mixed Race actress Dorothy Dandridge who became noted as the first ever African American female film star – she was nicknamed ‘The Black Marilyn Monroe’. 

In 1968 In The Heat of  The Night starring Sidney Poitier was recognised. The film is about an African American police detective who is asked to investigate a murder in a racially-hostile southern town. It won 5 Oscars awards including Best Picture.

In 1961, French made, yet set in a Favela in Brazil during the Rio Carnival, Black Orpheus was nominated. The film is based an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

There was nothing then until 1988 when Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom starring Denzel Washington. Lost out to French film Jean de Florette. Cry Freedom is based on fact and set during Apartheid. The story tells of a South African journalist who tries to investigate the murder of  his friend the activist Steve Biko. Denzel Washington was infamously nominated in the Best Actor in a Supporting role at that year’s Oscars.

In 1991 Driving Miss Daisy was nominated in the BAFTA Best Film category. The film starring Morgan Freeman in the lead role as the chauffeur to a prejudice old Jewish woman in the American South focused on their relationship which grows and improves over the years. But although a hit at the awards, it incensed some black film fans who were critical of Morgan winning the Oscar for Best Actor… some say he only won because he was playing  a subservient character…

In 1997 Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies didn’t win its nomination in the Best Film category, but it did win the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film. The film’s star, Marianne Jean-Baptiste became the first British AfriCarib female to get an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for her role as Hortence  a middle class black woman adopted at birth who upon looking for her birth mother discovers that she’s a working class white woman. Jean-Baptiste has subsequently enjoyed a successful career in the states at that time fueling the debate about the lack of credible roles for AfriCarib actors in the UK. Things. Don’t. Change. Huh!

In 2003 City of God was nominated in the Best Film Not in the English Language category. The film set in Rio de Janeiro’s violent Favela’s is a loosely based in fact tale of two boys who end up on different life paths. One becomes a photographer, the other a drug dealer.

2006 saw Crash which starred British AfriCarib actress Thandie Newton alongside Don Cheadle, Ludacris and cast of big Hollywood actors won big at that year’s Oscars but missed out at the BAFTA’s. The multiple-storylined film is  about racial tensions in Los Angeles.

Although it did well at the Oscars, Lee Daniel’s Precious only managed a BAFTA Best Film nomination in 2010

Last King of Scotland, starring Forest Whittaker as Uganda’s controversial dictator Idi Amin lost out in the Best Film category but won in the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film in 2007. Forest won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal.

In 2012 it became glaringly obvious the lack of AfriCarib films being made/getting recognised in the UK as Steve McQueen was again nominated in for an Outstanding British Film nomination for Shame a film about a man played by 12 Years a Slave star Michael Fassbender as a man with a deviant sex addiction.

If Moonlight wins this year, then… we’re back on track?

Where McQueen could have broken a clear record was if in 2014 he also won in the Best Director category as so far no Black man British or otherwise has been nominated in this category until Steve McQueen’s Hunger was recognised in 2009. Even this year, BAFTA has opted out of nominating Barry Jenkins for Moonlight in the director category.

In 2014 same year Barkhad Abdi became the first Somali (American) actor to win a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Abduwali in Captain Phillips – Captain Phillips. Prior to Abdi, the only Samuel L. Jackson was the first black man to win Best Supporting Actor in 1994 for his role as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. This year BAFTA has two chances at diversity wins, if either Mahershala Ali wins for his role as Juan in Moonlight, or if they keep it all the way British and give it to Dev Patel for his role as Saroo in Lion. A side note Patel was the first Indian Brit to be nominated in the Best Leading Actor category at the 2008 BAFTA awards for his role as Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire. If he wins for Lion, it will also be record breaking as he’d be the first India Brit to win Best Supporting Actor.

In regards to the Supporting Actress role in 1991 Whoopi Goldberg won for her role as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost. In 2005 Thandie Newton won for her role in Crash. The following year, 2006, Jennifer Hudson won for her role in Dreamgirls. 2009 Mo’nique won for her role in Precious and in 2011 Octavia Spencer won for her role in The Help. This year, it looks good for Viola Davis nominated for her role as Rose Maxson in Fences and Naomie Harris for her role as Paula in Moonlight. 

BAFTA 2017 Nominations (that we care about the most):

Best Supporting Actor

  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress

  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Viola Davis, Fences

BAFTA Rising Star

  • Ruth Negga

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer 

  • George Amponsah & Dionne Walker, The Hard Stop
  • Babak Anvari, Under the Shadow

Best Documentary

  • Ava DuVernay, The 13th

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures
  • Luke Davies, Lion

Best British Film

  • Lion
  • Under the Shadow

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer

  • Mike Carey (Writer), Camille Gatin (Producer), Girl with all the gifts

Best Film

  • Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Adele Romanski, Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay

  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight.

The 70th EE BAFTA’s take place Sunday 12th February 2017 at The Royal Albert Hall. The ceremony is on BBC One from 9.00pm, and will also be available to watch online via BBC iPlayer.


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