By Amit Roy
BAFTA’S new chairman Krishnendu Majumdar has told Eastern Eye in an exclusive interview that he is pushing through radical and fundamental changes aimed at achieving greater diversity in the film, television and gaming industries.
Majumdar is extending Bafta’s 8,000- strong membership by 1,000 from “under-represented groups”, such as Asians. He is also warning film production companies that they cannot put in for the organisation’s glittering prizes – the British equivalent of the Oscars – unless they meet tough new diversity targets.
In all, Bafta – the British Academy of Film and Television Arts – has announced 120 changes and Majumdar said “that’s just the first phase, just the start of change”.
“It will make the academy a richer place if we’ve got a variety of voices,” he reasoned. “Of course, it’s the right thing to do.”
Majumdar is the first non-white chairman in Bafta’s 73-year history and, at 45, the youngest for 35 years.
He emphasised: “That’s a wholesale cultural change I want at Bafta. I think all these measures are attacking it from a variety of ways to level the playing field.”
The lack of Asians, people from a black background, women and other disadvantaged groups is obvious, but in order to find out precisely how bad the problem is, Bafta is carrying out an in-depth survey.
In the past, only a third of members, 20 per cent of whom are based in America, responded. But this time there will be a price to pay if members ignore the questionnaire, he said.
“It’s going to become mandatory. If you want to vote in the awards, you have fill in the survey,” said Majumdar, who made it clear he has the full backing of Bafta’s entire board of trustees.
He intends publishing the data, however embarrassing it proves to be, in order to highlight what is perceived to be a white dominated film and television industry.
He is also going to establish diversity targets. “We’re going to say right here is where we’re at in 2020. This is where we want to be in 2021, 2022, 2023.”
The real problems are behind the camera because on screen, he acknowledges that representation of Asians and black people is getting better. “The real issue is behind the camera. It’s not just about actors, writers and directors. We haven’t got enough hair and make-up designers of colour. We haven’t got enough sound technicians,” he said.
Majumdar has written two letters to members setting out the changes he is determined to implement. He says these have been picked up by some national newspapers and given an erroneous twist.
“Suddenly, the newspapers were going, ‘Bafta is going to ban Downton Abbey’ – and that’s not the case whatsoever,” he asserted. “You could do a period piece or a story that doesn’t involve people of colour or LGBTQ or whatever. But then your crew has to be diverse. You have to have diversity in your production.”
Of Bafta’s 8,000 members, 6,700 vote for the film awards. This is the number that is being increased. Since membership costs £495 a year plus a joining fee of £150, Bafta is considering how it might be able to help new recruits in a year when work has dried up because of the pandemic. The industry is not expected to get back to anything like normal until 2022 at the earliest.
Majumdar’s tenure is three years, an increase from the two years previous chairmen have had. But he wants to set in motion diversity changes that cannot be reversed after he steps down.
Majumdar says extending Bafta’s membership is a start, but will not achieve diversity by itself. For next year, in the Best British Film category, there will be 10 nominations so that a wider range of films can be judged.
“I’m sure there’ll be big British movies like 1917, but also some of the smaller British films will hopefully be nominated,” Majumdar clarified. “We started this root and branch review immediately after the film awards in February before the pandemic. But obviously, during the course of the review, the world has changed. So it’s taken on more urgency.
“We have announced an immediate and wide-ranging review into the awards, which I am personally leading.
“It took six, seven months to do this first stage of this review. We spoke to so many people, and so many different organisations like Directors UK (the professional association of UK screen directors); Equity; PACT (Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television); Time’s Up UK (an organisation that insists on safe, fair and dignified work for women); and Era 5050 (which campaigns for a 50-50 gender balance across British stage and screen). They all want change.”
The rules on diversity do not have to be drawn afresh because Bafta is adopting those already formulated by the British Film Institute (BFI) – Standard A: on-screen representation; Standard B: creative leadership; Standard C: industry access and training opportunities; and Standard D: distribution and exhibition strategies.
“These are a vital lever for Bafta to influence the kinds of films which are produced in the UK and how they are made,” said Majumdar.
In 2018, Bafta became the first major awards body to introduce the BFI’s diversity criteria into the eligibility for its gongs. In other words, “to qualify for the British categories in the film awards, two of four standards must be passed”.
But Majumdar is now poised to make the eligibility criteria even tougher.
Asked whether the pool of Asians and black people behind the camera was sufficiently big, he replied: “No, absolutely not. One of the standards is about training – you just have to employ trainees and get people in who are diverse. The way people hire is you tend to hire people you know, and then it’s the same people. But this is something we’re really, really, really addressing.
“One of the issues about the whole diversity thing in film, TV and games is there are lots of training schemes, but then do those people progress to the very top of the profession? What we’ve seen is there are barriers to that. What we’re trying to do in these 120 changes is remove some of the barriers to diversity.”
Majumdar told Eastern Eye: “While race is at the forefront of our minds, we must also look at how we have excluded women, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, those from working-class backgrounds, and those outside London.
“I am determined to usher in meaningful change as a result of the awards review during my term as chair. It is clear we still have a lot of ground to cover both as an industry and an organisation, but I hope we have begun to take the necessary steps.”