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BAFTA Awards: Nomadland and director Chloe Zhao make history with top honours

Written by on 12 April 2021

Nomadland has been crowned the big winner at this year’s BAFTA Awards, taking home the gongs for leading actress, best film, cinematography and a history-making best director award.

It was also a great night for British star Daniel Kaluuya, who can now add a best supporting actor BAFTA to his Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and Screen Actors’ Guild awards for his role as Black Panther deputy chairman Fred Hampton in Judas And The Black Messiah.

Debut writer and director Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman also did well, picking up the prizes for best original screenplay and best British film.

Emerald Fennell accepts the BAFTA for outstanding British film for Promising Young Woman. Pic: BAFTA/ Reuters Image: Emerald Fennell was shocked as she accepted her second award for Promising Young Woman. Pic: BAFTA/ Reuters Daniel Kaluuya wins best supporting actor at the BAFTAs. Pic: BAFTA/Reuters Image: Daniel Kaluuya adds a BAFTA to his awards collection. Pic: BAFTA/Reuters

But the night belonged to Nomadland, with director Chloe Zhao becoming only the second woman to win the BAFTA for best director for the film, and the first Chinese filmmaker to win the award.

The first female winner was Kathryn Bigelow, who took the gong in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.

Nomadland stars Frances McDormand as a woman living in her van as she embarks on a journey across the American West, and has already won Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards this season.

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Diversity takes centre stage at BAFTAs

Accepting the best film prize, Zhao said: “We would like to dedicate this award to the nomadic community who so generously welcomed us into their lives.

“They shared with us their dreams, their struggles and their deep sense of dignity. Thank you for showing us that aging is a beautiful part of life, a journey that we should all cherish and celebrate.

“How we treat our elders says a lot about who we are as a society and we need to do better.”

The BAFTA ceremony, which was delayed by two months, was largely virtual this year, with only the hosts, Dermot O’Leary and Edith Bowman, presenters and performers appearing in person at the Royal Albert Hall.

It started with a tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, who was BAFTA’s first ever president, following his death on Friday. Later on, the ceremony included an In Memoriam section honouring stars who have died in the past 12 months, including Dame Barbara Windsor, Sir Sean Connery and Chadwick Boseman.

Revenge drama Promising Young Woman saw Fennell – who people might know best for starring as Camilla in The Crown – pick up her two awards virtually, like the rest of the nominees.

Richard E Grant presented an award at the BAFTAs. Pic: BAFTA/Reuters Image: Richard E Grant and Priyanka Chopra Jonas (below) were among the stars who presented awards and attended in person. Pics: BAFTA/Reuters Priyanka Chopra Jonas presented the first BAFTA of the evening. Pic: BAFTA/Reuters

The film is her directorial debut, starring Carey Mulligan as a woman left traumatised by tragedy.

In her speech for the outstanding British film prize, Fennell joked that everyone involved had made the film for “a packet of crisps”, but said the experience was “the greatest thing of my life”.

Accepting his award, Kaluuya said it was “an honour to be a vessel” for activist Fred Hampton.

Sir Anthony Hopkins was named best actor for his role in The Father, about a man dealing with dementia. He took home the prize ahead of the late Boseman, who had widely been considered the frontrunner following previous posthumous award wins for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn won the best supporting actress gong for her role as a grandmother in Minari. In her speech, she joked that she was honoured to be recognised by the “snobbish” Brits.

Despite being one of the front-runners ahead of the awards, tied with Nomadland for the most nominations, British coming of age film Rocks missed out in most of its categories – except for star Bukky Bakray, who was named winner of the EE Rising Star award.

Yuh-Jung Young was named best supporting actress for her role in Minari. Pic: BAFTA/Reuters Image: Yuh-Jung Young made a joke about ‘snobbish’ Brits in her acceptance speech. Pic: BAFTA/Reuters Bukky Bakray won the Rising Star award. Pic: BAFTA/Reuters Image: Rocks newcomer Bukky Bakray was named BAFTA’s rising star for 2021. Pic: BAFTA/Reuters

Bakray, who grew up in east London, plays a teenage girl struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother after they are abandoned by their mother, in what was her first acting role.

Speaking after her win, Bakray said: “I hope that viewers see the beauty in the mundane experience and they see the beauty in life and human beings as people.

“I think when you look at Rocks’ narrative, it’s not flashy, it’s not crazy, there’s no guns, there are no stunts, there is no this and that.

“Even though I love films that have that, this film is really minimalistic. It really focuses on life and human nature and humanity.”

Prince William, who is the current president of BAFTA, had been due to deliver a speech via video, hailing the resilience of the film industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, but withdrew following the death of his grandfather.

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