Bafta boss says 'we're not racist' after Selma snub causes outrage

Despite many high-profile actors acknowledging it's harder to be a black actor, the head of Bafta says the industry isn't racist

Helen Nianias
Sunday 01 February 2015 12:58

Amanda Berry, chief executive of the Baftas, has said that she believes the industry should "reflect the society we live in". This has come after the academy was criticised for the swathe of white, public-school boys who are up for the top awards this year.

Talking to The Observer, Berry said: “It is essential that the industry is open to all.”

“The industry we work in has to reflect the society we live in. That is really important.”

This contradicts the opinion of many industry figures - including Benedict Cumberbatch - who have said that it is harder to find success if you're black. This year's Bafta shortlist controversially overlooked Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma, and favoured films starring white, public-school actors such as Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne.

Cumberbatch told a US talkshow: “I think as far as coloured actors go, it gets really different in the UK, and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the US] than in the UK, and that's something that needs to change.”

“Something's gone wrong, we're not representative enough in our culture of different races and that really does need to step up a pace,” he added.

Selma star David Oyelowo also voiced his disappointment at the apparent snub. "When it's the best reviewed film of the year, and it's a film of this significance, and you have British company Pathé producing it, and you have four Brits as the main characters of the film, you expect to be nominated for Baftas," Oyelowo told the BBC.

"When that doesn't happen it sends an odd message," he added.

But there is no prejudice at play, according to Berry. “This is possibly a unique couple of years with a certain kind of actor and a certain kind of film nominated,” she argued. “It happens to be a strong year for biopics, with the Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing films. We can’t change what is happening now, but we can change what happens in the future.”

Berry said that Bafta actively promoted ethnically diverse talent. "There is a perception that if you are from an ethnic background you have no chance," she said. "Our new Breakthrough Brits talent event allows anyone to nominate a star of the future and then we give them a year of mentoring. We don’t just shine a spotlight on them and then leave them alone."

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