'Nomadland,' 'Rocks' lead more diverse BAFTA nominations

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Aimee Spinks

This image released by Altitude shows, from left, Kosar Ali, Ruby Stokes and Bukky Bakray in a scene from "Rocks." The film received seven nominations from the EE British Film Academy Awards (Aimee Spinks/Altitude via AP)

Following an outcry over the lack of diversity in last year's nominees and an overhaul of its rules and regulations, the EE British Film Academy Awards on Tuesday unveiled a far more inclusive field of nominees, including record nods for female directors and a leading seven nominations for Chloe Zhao's “Nomadland” and Sarah Gavron’s “Rocks."

Much like previous Academy Awards controversies, last year's nominations by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts were denounced for their all-male directing nominees and all-white acting nominees, a backlash that spawned a #BaftasSoWhite hashtag. Director Steve McQueen said the BAFTAs — Britain's equivalent of the Oscars — risked irrelevancy. After winning for his performance in “Joker,” Joaquin Phoenix said he felt “conflicted” even accepting the award.

The British academy responded with a seven-month review. It expanded membership, mandated unconscious bias training for its 7,000 voting members, grew the number of nominees in numerous categories and changed the nomination process to include a longlist phase. Acting categories were selected in part through juries. Watching all longlisted films was made compulsory viewing. And the longlisted directing field was divided equally between women and men.

The results on Tuesday made for a radically different BAFTAs. The leading vote-getters were Zhao's drama about a middle-aged woman (Frances McDormand) who travels the American West while living out of her van, and Gavron's coming-of-age tale about a Black British teenage girl (Bukky Bakray) in London.

“Seeing how people are just so like in love with ‘Rocks,’ it kind of makes you feel indispensable in the world, and makes you feel less marginal to the broader picture," Bakray, who was nominated for best lead actress, said by video interview. “And it just makes you feel like the main character in your own story.”

Four of the six directing nominees are women, including Zhao, Gavron, Shannon Murphy (“Babyteeth”) and Jasmila Zbanic (“Quo Vadis, Aida?”). Also nominated are Lee Isaac Chung for the family drama “Minari” and Thomas Vinterberg for the Danish dark comedy “Another Round.”

More films were nominated, too. A total of 50 films were nominated, up from 39 last year. Amanda Berry, chief executive of BAFTA, said in a video interview that one of the most important parts of the academy's overhaul was getting members to watch more than just the most hyped movies. Despite the pandemic, a total of 258 films were entered into this year's BAFTAs, which the academy said were watched more than 150,000 times through its online platform.

“Hundreds of people were involved in that review. Out of it came a 120 changes that we’ve made across the organization,” said Berry. “But one of the biggest pieces of feedback was that the feeling was that not enough people were watching enough films.”