Denzel Washington has two Oscars, a SAG award and over 270 other accolades. One honor he doesn’t have yet over his 40-year career is a single nomination from the BAFTA Awards. With somewhat of a home-field advantage for taking on the words of the Brits’ greatest dramatist William Shakespeare, could Washington finally receive his first nom for “The Tragedy of Macbeth”?
BAFTA is continuing to make a conscious effort to widen their net for diversity, both within its own membership and the films it honors. However, with a new voting method introduced last year following the results of their diversity review, the group threw the awards season for a loop with surprise selections. Instituting a jury into the voting process, performances such as Radha Blank (“The Forty-Year-Old Version”) and Adarsh Gourav (“The White Tiger”) managed to make the cut in favor of “safer” picks like eventual Oscar nominees Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) and Gary Oldman (“Mank”).
For round one, the acting chapter (similar to the actors branch of AMPAS) votes by ranking up to 15 actors. The top two performances are automatically nominated for the BAFTA Awards. The next 10 highest vote-receivers are longlisted. Then, a jury selects three actors based on those who ranked 13th through 22nd. 15 performances will ultimately be longlisted. For round two, and with the top two already automatic nominees, the jury considers the remaining 13 actors and votes for the four remaining nominees slots. Six actors become BAFTA nominees.
All of Washington’s British Academy omissions are more complex than just blatant snobbery and cultural lacking. His Oscar-nominated films — “Glory” (1989), “Malcolm X” (1992), “The Hurricane” (1999) and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” (2017) — had late U.K. releases, pushing them outside of the eligibility window in their respective years.
Films like “Cry Freedom” (1987), “Training Day” (2001), “American Gangster” (2007) and “Fences” (2016) were outright brushed off in favor of lesser revered works. For “Freedom,” which garnered a hefty seven BAFTA noms, his co-star John Thaw was acknowledged instead of him. With “Training Day,” he was passed over for the likes of Kevin Spacey’s turn in the forgettable flick “The Shipping News” from Lasse Hallström. However, supporting actor Oscar nominee Ian McKellen (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”) and eventual supporting actor winner Jim Broadbent (“Iris”) were also acknowledged in the leading category.
“Gangster” from Ridley Scott was more appealing to the Brits than the Oscar voting body, as it landed five BAFTA noms, including best film. But, unfortunately, the Academy Awards only gave it two, including supporting actress (Ruby Dee) and production design, coincidentally two elements BAFTA didn’t recognize.
“Fences,” which marked Washington’s third outing as a director, was an awards darling. The film was a runaway for Viola Davis, who won supporting actress at every televised ceremony, including the BAFTAs. Still, she was the sole BAFTA nom for the August Wilson play adaptation. Despite Washington winning his first SAG Award, which made him just the second person ever to direct themselves to a win (the first was Roberto Benigni for “Life is Beautiful”), he was ignored across the pond.
The British voting bloc has become a critical awards stop in the past few years. 10 of the last 11 Oscar winners for best actor won BAFTA first; the exception is Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club,” which had too late of a U.K. release for voting.
Along with Washington, Will Smith is also one of the leading contenders for his turn in “King Richard,” but his two awards-friendly movies — “Ali” (2001) and “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006) — were both missing from their respective best actor BAFTA line-ups. If Smith or Washington were to win leading actor at BAFTA, either of them would be just the fourth Black winner in the category, following Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave” (2013), Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” (2006) and Jamie Foxx in “Ray” (2004). From 1952 to 1967, there were two best actor awards — British and foreign — until the categories were combined. During that period, Sidney Poitier won best foreign actor for “The Defiant Ones” (1958).
The first round of voting for the BAFTA Awards closes Monday. The British Academy will announce its longlist in all categories on Jan. 12. The official BAFTA nominations will be announced on Feb. 3. The BAFTA Awards are scheduled to take place on Mar. 13.