'Joker' leads British Academy Awards race amid controversy

By JILL LAWLESS 03 February 2020, 12:00AM

LONDON (AP) — The superhero villain saga “Joker” led the race for Sunday’s British Academy Film Awards, a glitzy event that has been overshadowed by criticism of the nominees’ lack of diversity.

Todd Phillips’ audience-dividing “Joker,” which charts the transformation of a frustrated stand-up comedian into Batman’s grinning nemesis, is nominated for 11 awards at Britain's equivalent of the Oscars, including best film, best director and best actor for Joaquin Phoenix.

Director Martin Scorsese’s mob epic “The Irishman” and Quentin Tarantino’s homage to 1960s' Los Angeles, “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” have 10 nominations apiece at the awards, also known as the BAFTAs.

Sam Mendes' intimate World War I epic “1917” had nine nominations and looked to be on an early roll, nabbing four awards once the ceremony at London's Royal Albert Hall got underway: best British film, cinematography, sound and production design.

No women have been nominated as best director at the BAFTAs for the seventh year running, and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories are white.

Awards organizers have said it is "disappointing” that there are no performers of color among the acting nominees, who are chosen by 6,500 academy members who work in the U.K. and international film industry.

British star Cynthia Erivo, who is Oscar-nominated for her performance as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in “Harriet” but was snubbed by Britain’s Academy, declined an invitation to perform at Sunday’s award ceremony in protest.

The British Academy has promised to review its voting procedures.

“We've announced a wide-ranging review. We're going to be looking at everything across the board in terms of the awards process,” said BAFTA chairwoman Pippa Harris.

“But also I think it's fair to say this is an industry-wide issue. It takes everyone to look at what they're doing,” she said. "Awards are right at the end of a whole process, and so we need to look at the types of films being made, the opportunities that people are getting, how the films are being promoted. All of these things play a part.”

Hours before the event and several miles away, at least three people were stabbed and wounded in what police called a terrorism-related attack. The alleged attacker was shot dead. The BBC canceled its plans to broadcast interviews from the red carpet on its news channel as a result.

Organizers set out to make the awards ceremony carbon neutral for the first time. The red carpet was made from recycled fibers. Instead of the goody bags of past years, guests will receive a “gifting wallet” made from recycled plastic and containing vouchers.

The post-awards dinner will feature sustainably sourced food, including a vegan option.

“Joker” star Phoenix, a lifelong vegan, joined an animal welfare protest in London before Sunday’s ceremony. He was with a group of activists who unfurled a large banner on Tower Bridge declaring "Factory farming destroys our planet. Go vegan.”

"We are all hypocrites in some ways,” the actor acknowledged when asked about the film industry’s substantial carbon footprint. “We all struggle with what the right thing to do is and we make mistakes.

"The industry does consume a lot of power and a lot of resources, so the way to mitigate that for me is to maintain a vegan lifestylem" Phoenix said.

Stars walking the red carpet — including Al Pacino, Scarlett Johansson, Margot Robbie and Charlize Theron — were encouraged to make “sustainable” fashion choices by wearing an outfit they already owned or renting one for the occasion.

Prince William — the British Academy's president — and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, were the last to arrive, as the guests of honor at Sunday's ceremony. William is due to present a BAFTA Fellowship, the academy’s top honor, to Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy.

Victory at the BAFTAs is often a good predictor who will win prizes at Hollywood’s Academy Awards, being held on Feb. 9.

Best-film BAFTA contenders are “Joker,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” the World War I thriller “1917” and the Korean drama “Parasite.” The directing nominees are Phillips, Scorsese, Tarantino, Mendes and Bong Joon-ho for “Parasite.”

Nominees for best British film — a separate category — are “1917,” the Elton John biopic “Rocketman,” the pontifical portrait “The Two Popes,” the Ken Loach gig-economy drama “Sorry We Missed You” and the Syria documentary “For Sama.”

The best-actor contest pits Phoenix, who has already won Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, against Leonardo DiCaprio for “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood,” Adam Driver for the divorce drama “Marriage Story,” Taron Egerton for “Rocketman” and Jonathan Pryce for “The Two Popes.”

Renee Zellweger is favored to win the best-actress trophy for her performance as Judy Garland in “Judy.” She’s up against Jessie Buckley for the Scotland-set country-music drama “Wild Rose,” Scarlett Johansson for “Marriage Story,” Saoirse Ronan for classic-novel adaptation “Little Women” and Charlize Theron for the Fox News scandal story “Bombshell.”

By JILL LAWLESS 03 February 2020, 12:00AM

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