“The very nature of Art rests on its inclusivity, and if you’re going to celebrate it, you have to remember that.”


Dora Gawn-Hopkins (she/her) compares the diversity problems of the BAFTAs and the BRITS.

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Image by Stuart Wilson/BAFTA/Getty Images

By Dora Gawn-Hopkins

Watching the 2023 BAFTAs last month, I was struck once again by the awkward formalness which has, at times, managed to seep into the ceremony over recent years. Of course, all award shows want to evoke an atmosphere of grandeur and glamour, but there’s a sense that the BAFTAs sometimes take themselves too seriously. I do not feel that blame resides with the guests, or even the host, or in this year’s case, co-hosts. Rather at a structural level, whether that be the chief executive, a major patron, or a core group of members, there seems to be a desire to maintain, to some degree, a traditional, singularly British notion of stuffiness.

What doesn’t help, are the hosts’ clunky one-liners, which recent speech writers appear to have established. This tendency seemingly began in 2018, following, Stephen Fry’s stepping down as host. Although these events were not linked, his decision to leave did follow controversial comments he’d made two years prior about costume designer Jenny Beavan’s appearance, after she won an award. Despite the two being close friends, people perceived the comments as misogynistic. Succeeding Fry, Graham Norton and Joanna Lumley, amongst others, have taken up the mantle, and like him, do anything but take themselves too seriously – perfect choices to counter the occasionally claustrophobic sense of gravitas. However, it soon became apparent that Norton’s and Lumley’s writers were simply not funny. Instead, the gags seemed to accumulate in excruciating awkwardness, with Lumley’s 2019 opening speech interrogated in The Guardian under the headline: “Is Joanna Lumley the worst Baftas host of all time?”. While the hosts themselves most likely have some sway over what they say, because figures like Norton and Lumley are so celebrated for their wit, the fact that people were so shocked by the dead landing of some jokes, resulted in serious questions over the script-writers’ abilities.

Nevertheless, this year, the jokes of first-time main host Richard E. Grant, lauded for his acting talents, charisma and humour – alongside similarly celebrated first-time co-host Alison Hammond – landed much better. The writing has definitely improved, and this worked well, combined with the same sense of gently poking fun at themselves and the ridiculous aspects of the awards which their predecessors conveyed. Having said that, a few jokes did fall flat which exacerbated the formalities, and at times Hammond’s interviewing in a backstage area felt similarly forced. Indeed, according to The Guardian, this new feature of the ceremony was intended to engage younger and more inclusive audiences by establishing less formal settings for conversation between artists, including those who were nominated or later revealed to win. Perhaps this explains the occasional forcedness and suggests it is not enough to slap together a lighter “side-bit” to the main ceremony, to transform the image of the BAFTAs. What’s more, there was deep backlash towards the cutting of several winning speeches to these scenes. This included that of Lesley Paterson – British co-writer of All Quiet on the Western Front, which took home 7 awards, the highest number of the night.

The BRITs, on the other hand, televised a fortnight before its film counterpart, could not have had a more youthful and vibrant image. Hosted in London’s post-modern O2, bold staging, speeches, and outfits were aplenty, as were drinks and laughs. The organisers’ use of social media to advertise the event, offering candid clips and updates on the winners, surrounded by striking graphics, engaged many young people. In addition, as The Guardian notes: “the genre categories were voted for by fans on TikTok as part of the Brit awards’ attempt to engage a youth audience with little interest in traditional awards ceremonies.” These jointly artistic and socio-political choices did forge an inclusive and inviting reflection of British attitudes towards music. In certain respects, this carried over to the awards themselves. Feminist powerhouse Wet Leg created a storm, both in their performance of their hit Chaise Longue, and, in my opinion, by being rightfully awarded best new artist and best British group – two out of their four nominations. Beyoncé also won big, receiving the accolade for best international artist, and international song of the year for “Break My Soul” – beating many big male names. Lizzo gave, as always, a spectacular, empowering and inclusive performance from her ground-breaking album Special, though shockingly missed out on any awards for her nominations.

While these more celebratory features of the ceremony must be valued, as Lizzo’s lack of awards indicates, the night was certainly not without problems. 60 percent of winners were male, and particularly enraging was that the new “best artist award”, replacing its previously gendered versions, included no female or non-binary nominees. Moreover, as The Guardian additionally states, “the awards were also dominated by white artists: Beyoncé and new British girl group Flo were the only artists of colour to take home trophies.” Furthermore, R&B music was consistently excluded from nominations. The Guardian describes how: the “pop/R&B category, [...] featured no R&B artists; nor were any R&B acts recognised in any of the major categories.” There was also some controversy surrounding Harry Styles’ recent remarks from The Grammies, where he said this achievement didn’t normally happen to “people like me”, despite the cultural dominance of white men in music, as remains the case in the arts. Rapper Aitch responded in his BRIT acceptance speech with: “Not many people where I’m from, especially my side of Manchester, get the opportunity to stand up here and receive such an amazing gift of an award. And I think that’s the main reason I do it for, to set examples and to let people know it’s possible no matter where you’re from.” Tom Grennan, while presenting an award with Ellie Goulding, made a sexist remark about her breasts. Though Goulding has since come to Grennan’s defence, calling him an “ally” and saying they’re friends who were just joking around, many viewers were rightfully unsettled.

The BAFTAs too, received great condemnation with the resurfacing of #BaftasSoWhite which started three years ago in response to their overwhelming lack of racial diversity. Pictures of the 2023 winners were re-tweeted many times with the caption. They’re pictured alongside Alison Hammond who is isolated amongst a sea of white faces. Whilst the nominees were more diverse, nothing like enough effort had been made. When it came to the winners they had clearly been effaced – as mostly occurred at the BRITs. Equally, whilst Oscar Winner Ariana DeBose should be applauded in some ways for her intricate rap and dance number which she performed at the BAFTAs - every lyric bursting with energy about women’s achievements that year in film - it came off as slightly patronising. It also jarred with the womens’ reactions who she mentioned, captured on camera during the routine. Many of them appeared politely, rather than genuinely, appreciative, or simply confused. Again, this felt like an attempt at inclusivity and vivacity that overall didn’t quite hit the mark.

It’s clear that despite both institutions making steps towards reflecting and celebrating an inclusive image of British Artistry, the BRITS more so than the BAFTAs, both still have a long way to go. And to those who defend the organisations by blaming the structural shifts which have to take place within the industries at large, in order for award ceremonies to change, I would say that their roles as those ceremonies are crucial components of enacting that systemic change. The more they refuse to accept their responsibilities, the worse the issues will grow; artists and viewers may well start boycotting them all together, as we’ve already witnessed beginning to take place. The very nature of Art rests on its inclusivity, and if you’re going to celebrate it, you have to remember that.