The BAFTA awards are the Academy Awards of Britain. The big winner this year was the German remake of Erich Remarque’s great World War One novel All Quiet on the Western Front.
I haven’t watched it, in part because when I read the book in the 1970s, I incorporated its message that a land war in Europe was a really bad idea, and I haven’t seen much reason to reassess that judgment since.
Presumably, its message is considered topical. But I also assume it’s a pretty good movie.
On the other hand, this movie about German soldiers in WWI is severely lacking in Diversity. And (as Tom Wolfe said in 1987), Plaques for Blacks are our society’s highest cultural priority. So, in The Guardian:
These awards are capable of celebrating Britain’s incredible filmmaking talent, but only when they face up to the question of whose art we value, and why
Mon 20 Feb 2023 09.08 EST
If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then perhaps coming to the Baftas looking for diversity is an exercise in madness. But this year, it was supposed to be different. Bafta’s chairman, Krishnendu Majumdar, announced an overhaul of voting and membership in 2020 after the awards’ lack of diversity was shamed both online and onstage—the latter by the best actor winner, Joaquin Phoenix. In response to that year’s all-white acting nominations, he said: “I think that we send a very clear message to people of colour that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from.”
Bafta took on the criticism and got to work, setting goals for 50-50 gender balance in its membership, with 20% from minority ethnic groups, 12% disabled people, and 10% LGBTQI+ by the year 2025. And where the 2023 Academy Awards nominations ignored the work of director Gina Prince-Bythewood and actors Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler, Bafta recognised them. Much was made of the red-carpet arrivals: Davis in a shimmering purple cape; Michelle Yeoh dripping in jewels; Angela Bassett in gargantuan lilac sleeves; and Ke Huy Quan radiating his signature enthusiasm. The night was set to show the Oscars just what they were missing.
So where did it all go wrong? How did we end up with a group shot of all the grinning awards winners circulating on social media, in which the only person of colour was the Bafta host Alison Hammond—no Davis, no Yeoh, no Bassett?
The first thing to acknowledge is that maybe they didn’t go wrong. Endless column inches could be spent debating the merits of Everything Everywhere All at Once v All Quiet on the Western Front (I wasn’t particularly impressed by either). And awards are fundamentally subjective exercises. Trying to get film fans to unanimously agree that Cate Blanchett was more convincing as a lecherous conductor than Deadwyler as the bereaved mother of a lynched child, or vice versa, is a fool’s errand. But what awards most straightforwardly determine is the state of the community that gives them out—and that is not just about Bafta voters but the British film industry itself....
In 2023, British film still seems resistant to change, to reimagining what gets made and what is celebrated. For all the purported recent progress, the British film establishment still seems content to recreate and reward only the most typical, straightforward filmmaking: second world war films
Or first world war films: who can remember the difference.
, period dramas and biopics.
It’s almost as if Britain has a memorable history before the Windrush.
By the end of the night, when it slowly sank in that every single winner was white, you could practically feel the Bafta team’s heads sink into their hands as they braced for yet another social media storm.
So, while the debate may rage on for eternity about whether All Quiet on the Western Front deserves to be the first non-English language film to win a best picture Bafta
I mean, who cares about World War One? I, Leila Latif, sure don’t.