New BAFTA Chair Addresses Black Lives Matter & Org’s Diversity Struggles, Says Body Must Be “Actively Anti-Racist”

Krishnendu Majumdar, the newly-appointed chair of UK awards body BAFTA, has sent a letter to the org’s membership addressing the killing of George Floyd and the voting org’s record on diversity.

In the letter, he expresses solitary for the Black Lives Matter protests that have sprung up around the globe since Floyd’s death, and vows that the organization will do better after the hefty criticism it received over its record on diversity following the publication of this year’s film nominations back in January.

The 2020 noms, which featured an all-white acting field and no women directors, sparked a #BAFTAsSoWhite backlash on social media and widespread industry criticism. BAFTA’s response was a mea culpa, with the body publicly calling the lack of diversity “frustrating and deeply disappointing”.

As Deadline revealed in January, the org stated it would conduct a thorough review of its voting procedures to avoid a repeat in the future, which Majumdar references below.

We can evolve. My election shows that at this defining hour, change is possible in this venerable institution,” the chair writes. “I want to cherish our illustrious history and heritage, and also make us a modern, contemporary charity. I want to see that our Academy is open for all and supports members regardless of their background, race, sexuality, disability or gender. I believe that we can inspire the next generation and be a beacon of excellence for the industry and for the public.”

On the subject of Black Lives Matter, Majumdar adds, “Every organisation, including BAFTA, must play its role responding to this movement.”

We’re at a crossroads for society regarding how we deal with race. Add into the mix the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the environmental crisis, and we are arguably facing up to the most serious challenges we’ve ever seen,” he continues.

You can read the letter in full below.

It is an honour to follow in Pippa Harris’s footsteps as Chair of the Academy. Thank you, Pippa, for everything you’ve achieved during your term as Chair. We are all hugely indebted to you for your dynamic and resilient leadership and for all you have achieved and given to BAFTA. I’m glad you will be staying on to support us in your role as Deputy Chair.

I’d like to share some thoughts on my personal journey, and how I come to be writing to you as Chair of BAFTA today. I was never the likeliest candidate. My father was an Indian immigrant who moved to Britain in the 1960s and settled in the South Wales valleys as a GP who worked for the NHS for over 40 years. Growing up, there was no-one from the Bengali community with connections in the film or television industries. I started in 2000 as a trainee at ITN and then at the BBC. I was elected to the BAFTA TV Committee in 2006 and rising to become Chair of the committee in 2015, then Deputy Chair of BAFTA and now Chair. We can evolve. My election shows that at this defining hour, change is possible in this venerable institution.

For me, the BAFTA members remain our greatest resource. I shall ensure that we listen to you, nourish your creative growth, and cater to your needs. The pandemic has challenged the BAFTA team to produce some remarkable work to expand our online output and reach many more people. In the next few years we are undertaking a number of massive projects – we will move back into a redeveloped home in 195 Piccadilly in London and expand BAFTA globally with the creation of BAFTA North America. I am determined my term brings the stability and leadership needed to complete these projects which will strengthen the Academy. I believe that BAFTA is an organisation well placed to bring our industry together post Covid-19 and with our partners lead us through these difficult times.

We are a global community and I want to make sure we are there for all of you. I don’t want to leave anyone behind. Your experience is the heart of our work and your energy fuels BAFTA. We have world class talent within the membership. I want to cherish our illustrious history and heritage, and also make us a modern, contemporary charity. I want to see that our Academy is open for all and supports members regardless of their background, race, sexuality, disability or gender. I believe that we can inspire the next generation and be a beacon of excellence for the industry and for the public.

I take on this role at a critical point in modern history. The horrific killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota policeman has ignited huge waves of anti-racist protests and demonstrations all over the world. I feel that every organisation, including BAFTA, must play its role responding to this movement.

Racism and structural inequality are ingrained in society. Historically, black and other people of colour have been exploited and faced discrimination and suffered for years. It’s important that we don’t just acknowledge overt racism, physical violence and verbal barbs – it is also crucial that we talk about the unseen, insidious, systemic racism that black people face – the micro-aggressions, the disenfranchisements and the disadvantages in employment. Everything leaves a psychological toll.

We’re at a crossroads for society regarding how we deal with race. Add into the mix the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the environmental crisis, and we are arguably facing up to the most serious challenges we’ve ever seen.

It is now up to us – as a society, as an industry, as an organisation, as individuals – to rise to the challenge. We all have to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting out racism. It is no longer acceptable to be just non-racist: BAFTA must be unequivocally and actively anti-racist. Organisations can no longer stand back from societal issues. In 2020, members and the public need the organisation to make clear where it stands.

For me, BAFTA’s first step has been to accept its own responsibilities. The 2020 Film Awards nominations earlier this year highlighted some uncomfortable truths for BAFTA and represents its own moment of reckoning. The Awards are an indicator of how we, as an industry, are progressing, and how we’re delivering on our promises to improve diversity and inclusion. The film nominations ought to be a moment that, with the help of the BFI Diversity Standards, can show the fruits of our efforts.

However, the 2020 nominations showed we are a long way from where we want to be. It is right that we have accepted responsibility for this, and that we have announced an immediate and wide-ranging review into the awards – which I am personally leading.

I can tell you, without doubt, that this review is one of the most important steps BAFTA has undertaken in recent years. We have never opened ourselves up like this before. Of course, I appreciate how the Covid-19 pandemic has caused untold damage to our industry and workforce. However, during this time we cannot risk stalling the progress we hope to make, not least as the impact of the pandemic may disproportionately affect those most disadvantaged in our industry.

It has been an important part of our growth as an organisation to acknowledge systemic racism and other unconscious biases, and to address this head-on. In doing so, we have pledged to do something about it. We are listening. We are hearing many opinions on where we have fallen short, and where we could do better. This has been an instructive part of our learning process.

Over the course of the review, we have received contributions from across the industry and beyond, from historically marginalised groups and communities who feel unsure of what BAFTA means to them in 2020. I want to thank everyone who has given their time to be involved. We would welcome all input, and if you haven’t yet had a chance to be involved, and you wish to do so, please email [email protected]

The next step is for us to turn the findings of the review into real action. As part of that, I look forward to sharing the group’s initial findings and recommendations, which will be presented at the end of this summer. While race is at the forefront of our minds at the moment, we must also use this moment to look at how we have excluded women, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, people from working class backgrounds, those based outside London. We should never become complacent – this work should be ongoing.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, BAFTA’s Television nominations showed signs of how we are beginning to step up to our promise to welcome and support more talented people of all backgrounds and circumstances into our creative sector. Progress is being made, not least in on-screen representation and new talent, illustrated by the number of first-time nominees. However, the nominations also showed where further progress is required across the industry; where we still see imbalances that need to be addressed. I believe these nominations can act as early markers on our journey towards a more diverse and inclusive industry. An incredible list of programmes and talent have been recognised, and the BAFTA spotlight shone on important stories, voices, and underrepresented talent who have been ignored for a long time. We should feel optimistic about the nominations and I look forward to the ceremonies on 17 July (TV Craft Awards available to watch on BAFTA social channels) and 31 July (Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards, broadcast on BBC One).

Along with the progress we’ve made as a direct result of our wide-ranging talent initiatives – I’m aware of countless success stories emanating from BAFTA Breakthrough, Elevate and Crew, to name a few – and the consolidation of the BFI Diversity Standards for awards eligibility, 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 you will see that we have begun to take the necessary steps.
It is a great honour to represent you and I pledge my passion and energy to you for the next three years. I am optimistic that together we can make a difference. I look forward to embarking on this journey with you. Bring it on.

Best,
Krish

Krishnendu Majumdar
Chair

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