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Bafta Film Awards: Does current voting system need to change?



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Is it time to chuck rotten tomatoes at the Baftas?

“There’s definitely a problem,” said actor Daniel Kaluuya referring to the diversity row engulfing this year’s Bafta nominations (all shortlisted actors are white, all shortlisted directors are male).

“What is the problem?” I asked.

He wasn’t sure.

I think I might have a hunch.

The morning after my interview with Kaluuya was broadcast I received an email from a producer who self-identified as a “Bafta judge… immersed in diversity issues”.

He had a copy of Queen & Slim, the film in which Kaluuya stars alongside fellow Brit Jodie Turner-Smith. The movie was eligible for this year’s awards but the producer hadn’t watched it.

“It’s true we get tons of DVDs and screeners and the fact is that Queen & Slim is sitting on my desk unseen,” he said.

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British actors Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith star in Queen & Slim

It wasn’t the only one. He hadn’t watched the majority of the 269 films in consideration for this year’s Baftas. His general strike rate is around a quarter of the films put forward.

On one hand that’s understandable. If you allotted an average of two hours per film, it would take 538 hours to watch the lot – or 65 working days. That’s a significant amount of time to put aside for a busy producer.

But on the other hand, it might be deemed unacceptable. If you can’t see all the eligible films, some may argue, you should become ineligible to vote because your opinion would inevitably be partial, biased and ill-informed.

His email exposes the shortcomings of Bafta’s award nominations process, which the academy leads us to believe is thorough and fair.

It states on its website that its membership – consisting of 6,500 “industry professionals and creatives from around the world” – decides “the nominations from hundreds of films”.

The clear implication being that those 6,500 members have actually watched the movies. That doesn’t appear to be the case in reality.

There are members voting in the main categories who have seen only a fraction of the eligible films.

Take, for example, the Bafta voter who tweeted me recently saying she was “partly to blame” for this year’s line-up because work commitments “meant I saw v [sic] few films to vote in Bafta nominations. Feeling guilty”.

This lack of comprehensive rigour is a major structural problem that Kaluuya and others would like addressed. The playing field is far from level. The actor thought any movie in contention should be seen.

The current system leaves Bafta voters free to decide which of the eligible films they fancy seeing and which ones they will give a miss.

At this point, Bafta nominations become entirely arbitrary and it maybe explains why some critically-acclaimed films without a massive promotional budget – such as The Farewell, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Last Black Man in San Francisco, and Us – missed out.

Selecting what to watch becomes a personal decision based on taste and prejudice.

The producer who emailed me wrote about having “to make choices”.

In the case of Queen & Slim, he lamented that it only opened in the UK after the Bafta voting period ended, although he had it sitting there on his desk ready to watch.

(A late release date hasn’t hampered Parasite, which still hasn’t opened in the UK but is nominated for best film, and best director – but the fact none of the actors got a nod is bemusing.)

He looked towards American reviewers for a steer and discovered they liked it “but… it wasn’t in the top area of responses, for example, 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.

“So unfortunately, I never got to it.”

It is a decision that might strike some as slightly odd. After all, Bafta says its purpose is to support British film and talent.

Kaluuya is certainly that, as Bafta knows: It recognised him as a rising star in 2018. His co-star in Queen & Slim is Jodie Turner-Smith, a breakthrough British actress.

It is also worth mentioning that Kaluuya, Tuner-Smith and the film’s debutant director Melina Matsoukas, are all black which, for a producer “immersed in diversity issues in the industry”, might have prompted him to give the film a chance.

Amanda Berry, Bafta’s chief executive, appears to be aware that her members are not seeing all the films, which obviously affects the nominations.

I asked her why she thought the British actress Cynthia Erivo had not been shortlisted for her performance in Harriet (Erivo is nominated for an Oscar, making her the only non-white actor to make the Academy’s shortlists in 2020).

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Cynthia Erivo didn’t make the Bafta shortlist for playing slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman

Berry said she thought it was because the film wasn’t very high-profile when it came out in the UK, and that a lot of her members didn’t know about it and hadn’t seen it.

Erivo apparently didn’t stand a chance even though, only last year, Bafta recognised her as a rising star.

The assumption should be that Bafta voters are knowledgeable and curious and above being swayed by the big movies with the big stars and the big marketing budgets. The implication from Berry suggests otherwise.

Add to that the reality that not all the eligible films are necessarily even watched and you end up with what many, including Amanda Berry, have described as a disappointing 2020 Bafta nominations line-up.

One which has failed to acknowledge the breadth, depth, and diversity of the talent showcased in the 269 films put forward for consideration in the reasonable expectation of a fair competition.

Maybe it’s #TimesUp for the current voting system?

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Arts go interactive during coronavirus lockdown




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Royal Academy of Dance

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The Royal Academy of Dance’s Silver Swans, pictured before the recent restrictions

As Britain begins its second week under strict conditions restricting movements and gatherings, arts organisations are getting creative in their attempts to interact with patrons.

The Getty Museum in the US, for example, has found a novel way for art lovers to engage with its collection.

Later this week the Royal Academy of Dance is launching a weekly series of online ballet classes, specifically tailored for the over-55s.

Theatres are now closed all across the country. But that doesn’t mean theatre lovers are being denied the joys of the communal experience.

Choirmaster Gareth Malone, meanwhile, is assembling a Great British Home Chorus to get us singing together even while we are apart.

Art imitating life

Based in Los Angeles, the J Paul Getty Museum is home to works by Rembrandt, Cezanne and hundreds of other world-renowned artists.

When the museum closed to the public on 14 March, its social media team started looking for ways to keep its audience entertained.

The answer lay in a Dutch Instagram account featuring elaborate recreations of works by Frida Kahlo, Rene Magritte and others.

The Getty put its own spin on the idea, inviting its followers to recreate artworks using three things lying around their houses.

Art fans jumped at the challenge, deploying everyday items, relatives and even pets to emulate works by Monet, Warhol and others.

One participant used coffee filters to make a mock-up of a ruff worn by one of El Greco’s subjects.

Another employed a shower cap and her own baby bump to replicate Raphael’s La donna gravida.

Bread, jam and a biscuit, meanwhile, were used to fashion an edible version of The Scream that certainly puts the munch into Edvard Munch.

“We are loving all your creative recreations,” the museum tweeted, exhorting its followers to “keep sharing”.

Keep dancing

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Royal Academy of Dance

Millions know Angela Rippon for the glamorous dance routine she performed with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise in 1976.

Forty-four years on, the former newsreader is still championing the terpsichorean arts in her role as Royal Academy of Dance ambassador.

Since 2017, the HealthCheck UK presenter has been raising awareness for the RAD’s Silver Swans project, branded ballet classes aimed at the over-55s.

This week the RAD is putting those classes online in the hope they will encourage older audiences to “unleash their inner dancer”.

“It’s a series of exercises that anyone can do at any level, that you can do at home in a small personal space,” Rippon told BBC News.

“You’re not going to be flying across the room like Carlos Acosta – you can do most of them holding on to something solid.”

According to Rippon, though, it’s not just the body that gets a workout.

“You’re having to use your brain as well so it’s a mental as well as a physical exercise,” she explained.

“It makes you feel good physically, but it makes you feel good psychologically too.”

The first online tutorial goes online on Wednesday, with new classes released weekly over the next nine weeks.

All the world’s a stage

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The closure of the UK’s theatres and performing arts venues has left the industry mired in turmoil and uncertainty.

With its base shuttered indefinitely, though, the National Theatre has decided to make some of its older productions accessible to a wider audience.

From 2 April, some productions previously screened in cinemas will be put on YouTube for theatre lovers to watch free of charge.

They include the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors starring James Corden; adaptations of the novels Jane Eyre and Treasure Island; and a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night starring Tamsin Greig.

The Hampstead Theatre in north London is also putting some of its plays online, starting this week with its 2016 staging of Mike Bartlett’s Wild.

If recent TV dramas Belgravia and The English Game haven’t sated your Julian Fellowes cravings, meanwhile, a 2017 recording of his musical version of The Wind in the Willows can also be streamed for free.

Lisa Burger, the National’s executive director, said its “varied” programme meant there would be “something for everyone to enjoy from their own homes”.

“We will be streaming each production at the same time each week in order to recreate, where possible, the communal viewing experience,” she added.

Roxana Silbert, the Hampstead’s artistic director, said its own offerings over the next three weeks would give audiences “entertainment, connection and nourishment in a time of uncertainty and isolation”.

The show, they say, must go on – something that producer Robert Myles has taken to heart.

He and a group of actors are gathering every Thursday to live stream performed readings of Shakespeare’s Complete Works.

So far they have tackled The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew, with the first part of Henry VI to follow later this week.

Sing for your supper

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Self-isolation is proving no hindrance to Gareth Malone’s new project, an online response to the nationwide closure of communal rehearsal places.

More than 160,000 people took part in the first rehearsal last week on YouTube.

“It is amazing how many people have signed up,” said Malone, promising to create something “really wonderful and inspiring”.

Those who have got involved have extolled the virtues of being part of what is now a globe-spanning venture.

“Amazing how a bit of singing lifts my spirits,” wrote one participant, while another said they were “absolutely loving the choir”.

“This is a wonderful idea,” wrote another choir member. “Thank you so much Gareth and everyone who is making this possible.”

For Angela Rippon, organisations and initiatives like the ones above are in an ideal position to appeal to a largely housebound populace.

“This is a great opportunity to reach a wider audience than they ever have before,” she said.

“Millions of us are in lockdown in our own homes and have the chance to do things we never felt we could.”

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Elton John hosts star-studded iHeart Living Room coronavirus benefit concert




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Sir Elton John enjoyed a less than quiet night in on Sunday as he was digitally joined by quarantined stars from around the music world for a virtual coronavirus benefit concert.

The British pop legend hosted the iHeart Living Room Concert For America from his home in Los Angeles.

The online festival featured performances from the likes of Billie Eilish, Dave Grohl and Mariah Carey from their sofas and home studios.

It raised funds for two US charities.

Broadcasting from what he claimed was his only house without a piano, the Rocketman dug out his son’s keyboard for a rendition of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, and also serenaded a delighted Lizzo with an a capella snippet of her track Juice.

“Not long ago, there was another infectious disease that was ignored,” said Sir Elton.

“Day in and day out, the disease got worse, because we did nothing. Too many forgot about compassion and decency, and so millions and millions of people perished from Aids.

“But this time, we aren’t going to let that happen. So, stay home for the ones you love.”

The star was criticised online by some afterwards, however, for comparing the Covid-19 pandemic with the spread of Aids in the 1980s and 90s.

‘The host with the biggest heart’

Lady Gaga, who did not sing but did wear sunglasses indoors, described him as “the host with the biggest heart” during the one-hour televised special and told viewers to “find joy however you can” during this period of isolation, and to help their “local communities”.

Grammy winner Billie Eilish and her brother and musical partner Finneas O’Connell delivered a chilled out version of her breakout hit Bad Guy – precisely one year after its release.

Eilish, who was relaxing on the couch underneath a baseball cap, sang the track’s signature electronic synth line.

Just like opening act Alicia Keys before him, Foo Fighter Dave Grohl dedicated his song to the first responders and healthcare professionals who are treating people with coronavirus, which has taken 2,503 lives in the US so far and killed 1,228 people in the UK.

“I’d like to dedicate this song to all the people out there who are on the frontlines,” he said when introducing My Hero. “That are doing their best to get us through all of this.

“If you sing that last chorus every time you wash your hands, I think you might be in good shape,” joked Grohl.

Fellow rocker Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day said it was “an honour” to offer up an acoustic rendition of Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

Camila Cabello and boyfriend singer Shawn Mendes are self-isolating together and gave fans a domestic dose of her recent hit My Oh My.

The US-Cuban singer even sang the DaBaby part – in the rapper’s absence – after briefly checking the lyrics on her phone.

Manband Backstreet Boys rolled back the years with a performance of their 1999 hit I Want It That Way.

Unlike in the glory days, however, the guys were singing separately, from their respective family homes (with kids popping in and out), and joined together in a WhatsApp/Zoom-style grid – essentially a retro pop version of your post-coronavirus work meetings, but with added Los Angeles swimming pool, courtesy of Nick Carter.

Aside from the host, the UK was represented by Sam Smith, who sang their ballad How Do You Sleep, snapping their fingers for added percussion.

“I don’t play an instrument,” admitted Smith, adding. “So this is just my voice… I hope that’s OK?”

Mariah Carey thanked her twins – aka “Dem Babies” – for “staying patient with me at home and not complaining too much”.

She also belted out her 1996 track Always Be My Baby alongside a keyboard player and some remotely placed backing singers, who were beamed in.

The show, which was broadcast on Fox TV and iHeart Radio in the US, raised funds for Feeding America and the First Responders Children’s Foundation.

The amount raised was not immediately revealed, but household goods giant Procter & Gamble gave $500,000 (£400,000), which was matched by Fox.

The event filled the gap in the schedule that was left when the iHeart Radio Music Awards were cancelled.

Meanwhile, James Corden is hosting a similar fundraiser from his garage on Monday, with Eilish, Dua Lipa and BTS among those due to join him remotely.

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Jack Monroe: Coronavirus cookery for the culinary clueless




Do not be afraid to mix up your ingredients – that is the advice of food writer Jack Monroe, as we all make the most of our store cupboards during the coronavirus lockdown.

The cook, from Southend, Essex, has been sharing some top tips to help people who lack confidence in the kitchen.

The author is well-known for making the most of basic ingredients and says swapping around pulses and vegetables will still lead to a delicious meal.

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