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BAFTAs - 1, Oscars - 0: British Academy to reject films that fail diversity test

Sahil Bhalla | Updated on: 22 December 2016, 21:10 IST

Filmmakers and producers, mark you calenders, because starting 2019, if your film isn't 'diverse' enough, then you won't be eligible for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nomination and award - specifically Outstanding British Film or Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer awards.

The BAFTAs - UK's version of the Oscars - are leading the way in diversity on both sides of the camera in what is being hailed as a bold move by many.

BAFTA has announced a number of changes that aim to showcase a wider range of diversity in its membership with the hope that others will follow suit.

Three ticks

BFI's (British Film Institute) Diversity Standards were established back in 2014. That applied to films applying for money from the British state backer.

They had introduced a "three ticks" system which would be used to assess individual projects' commitment to diversity.

As The Guardian reported, these include "demonstrable opportunities" for trainees and interns to "progress with their careers", "diverse" key creatives with "at least two heads of department from diverse backgrounds", and "characters positively reflecting diversity, at least 30% of supporting and background characters positively reflecting diversity".

In a statement posted on the website, BAFTA said, "[We believe] they are a flexible and achievable model, which the whole industry can adopt as a shared language for understanding diversity."

To qualify for award nomination, filmmakers will have to show they have "worked to increase the representation of under-represented groups" in areas including "onscreen representation" and "industry access and opportunities".

To be illegible for an award in either of these two categories now, a film must demonstrate that they've worked with groups that are 'under-represented' in the film industry. These could be ethnic minorities, LGBT, disabled, women (yes, it's 2016 and that's still an issue), and people from backward classes. These 'under-represented' groups must have increased participation in two out of the four areas:

- Onscreen representation, themes and narratives

- Project leadership and creative practitioners

- Industry access and opportunities

- Opportunities for diversity in audience development.

Membership process

Alongside this, changes are coming to the membership process for BAFTA. This one comes on the heels of an anonymous survey in

January 2016

. Forty-five per cent responded to the survey. Of this, 41% were female and 13% ethnic minority. The median age of respondents was 52. To this effect, BAFTA admitted 375 new members in the 2016 calender year.

Of the new inductees, 43% were female, a slightly healthier 18% were ethnic minority and the median age was 8 years younger at 44.

At least their mix of people is healthier than that of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Their membership stands at 23% female, median age of 62 and just 6% non-white.

The last change is the removal of a requirement for a proposer and a seconder to apply for membership. This rule will come in effect from 2017 itself.


For many a year now, the world has been treated to #OscarsSoWhite every February. Every award season we find actors, filmmakers, critics, film aficionados talking about ways for the industry to improve their diversity.

This discussion is seemingly futile as nothing has really changed. Last year though, we got a glimmer of hope. After another all-white acting nominee list, the Academy made a number of changes. The Academy wanted to double the number of female and minority members by 2020. On the flip side, The Academy has also assured its older, white, male members that none of the changes will be made at their expense.

Looking beyond race

Race is one thing. For BAFTA to look beyond it makes one feel optimistic for the future. The BAFTA team is looking at women, disabled people and LGBT+ people. That some may skirt the rules won't matter. Some may even pull in arbitrary black, disabled, LGBT+ characters just to qualify. But that there will be many more films with diverse people both on-screen and behind the screens is worth sitting up and taking notice.

BAFTAs' move isn't easy but it's a necessary start. The fact that British filmmakers will now have to 'try' to be more diverse is crucial. Let's all just hope that within a few years, the numbers improve significantly.

First published: 22 December 2016, 21:10 IST
Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla

Sahil is a correspondent at Catch. A gadget freak, he loves offering free tech support to family and friends. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, New York and worked previously for Scroll. He selectively boycotts fast food chains, worries about Arsenal, and travels whenever and wherever he can. Sahil is an unapologetic foodie and a film aficionado.