Zero Black Women Have Won BAFTAs’ Best Actress Category in 76 Years, So When Will They?

Rexa Vella

Zero Black Women Have Won BAFTAs’ Best Actress Category in 76 Years, So When Will They?

In the history of Black leading actresses at prestigious award shows, Halle Berry’s triumph for “Monster’s Ball” at the Oscars stands prominently, while the BAFTAs lack a similar honoree, and the upcoming Sunday ceremony seems unlikely to change that.

This year’s roster of lead actress nominees boasts a diverse array of talents. Vivian Oparah garnered attention for her breakthrough role in the romantic drama “Rye Lane,” alongside Fantasia Barrino‘s captivating performance in the musical adaptation of “The Color Purple.” Also vying for the coveted title are Oscar nominated actresses Sandra Hüller (“Anatomy of a Fall”), Carey Mulligan (“Maestro”) and Emma Stone (“Poor Things”), with Margot Robbie (“Barbie”), who’s recognized in the best picture category as a producer. Speculation abounds among pundits and prognosticators, all anticipating a win for one of the three Oscar-nominated women, setting the stage for another year where Black actresses may find themselves overlooked.

ReadVariety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

In response to the viral #BAFTAsSoWhite hashtag in 2015, BAFTA pledged to overhaul its nomination process. In 2020, then-chairman Krishnendu Majumdar committed to effecting “meaningful and sustainable progress” towards a more inclusive awards ceremony and industry at large. The subsequent diversity review ushered in a series of reforms, including increased jury involvement across performance and directing categories aimed at ensuring a more diverse pool of nominees. Yet, these efforts have failed to yield significant changes in winners, particularly evident in the best actress category. Instead, the nomination selections draw criticism on the notable omissions (i.e., Olivia Colman for “The Lost Daughter” and “The Father”), instead of their interesting selections.

Last year, despite 10 of the 24 nominees across the four acting categories being ethnically diverse, BAFTAs’ eventual winners produced an all-white lineup including Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Cate Blanchett (“Tar”), Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin”). This year’s prospects could potentially mirror this trend, with Paul Giamatti (“The Holdovers”) and Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”) contending for best leading actor, while Robert Downey Jr. appears poised to claim the supporting actor category. All eyes are on Giamatti’s co-star Da’Vine Joy Randolph to maintain momentum throughout the awards season, though contenders like Emily Blunt (“Oppenheimer”) and Sandra Hüller for her role in “The Zone of Interest” remain formidable challengers.

A 2018 report from business psychology firm Pearn Kandola revealed that approximately 94% of all BAFTA winners have been white, a statistic that has likely increased since. The analysis noted a mere five BAME (Black and minority ethnic) males nominated for leading actor and six BAME females for leading actress. Subsequent years have seen marginal improvement, with 10 POC nominees added to the leading actor category since 2020, resulting in one victory for Will Smith (“King Richard”). Leading actress nominations have increased by 11, yet victory eludes them. Viola Davis, with her nomination for “The Woman King” (2022), further solidified her position as the most nominated Black woman in BAFTA history, alongside nods for “Widows” (2018), “Fences” (2016) and “The Help” (2011). For perspective, veteran actress Maggie Smith boasts four BAFTA wins.

Although supporting acting categories show a slightly better track record for POC representation over the past 25 years, including wins by Puerto Rican actors Benicio del Toro (“Traffic”) and Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”), a glaring statistic persists: despite his illustrious career and two Academy Awards, Denzel Washington has never received a BAFTA nomination.

The question of how to address the UK’s persistent issue with embracing diverse performers remains unanswered. While commendable strides have been made, it’s evident that there is still considerable work to do.

The final BAFTA predictions can be found here.


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