LONDON – Nomadland, Chloé Zhao’s film about a woman forced to join the growing numbers of Americans living out of delivery vans in search of work, was the big winner of the EE British Academy Film Awards in London on Sunday.
It was named Best Picture at Britain’s Oscars Counterpart, better known as the BAFTAs, beating Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and the acclaimed “Promising Young Woman” starring Carey Mulligan.
Zhao was also named Best Director, while Nomadland star Frances McDormand won Best Actress. The film, which received strong praise from British critics for its “delicate, concise portrait of a life on the street”, was also named best camera.
Zhao was referring to her time as a student in an English seaside town when she accepted the award for best director. “Wow, I think I just made my teacher at Brighton College really proud,” she said to the laugh of the virtual audience.
But she dedicated her awards to the nomadic middle-aged and older Americans who participated in the film. “Thank you for showing us that aging is a beautiful part of life,” said Zhao. “How we treat our elders says a lot about who we are as a society,” she added, “and we need to do better.”
This year’s BAFTAs were distributed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, but without the usual glamorous crowd. Instead, the nominees took part via video link, with some sitting in their living rooms.
This year’s nominees were notable for their diversity, in stark contrast to last year’s awards when no colored people were nominated in the main categories and no women were nominated for best director, causing an outcry on social media.
In response, BAFTA made a number of rule changes, including requiring its members to undergo unconscious bias training and involve juries in different categories before voting.
The various nominations did not always lead to victories for color actors. Anthony Hopkins won best actor for “The Father,” where he plays a man struggling with dementia. He hit Riz Ahmed for his portrayal of a musician losing his hearing in “The Sound of Metal” and Chadwick Boseman for starring in “Ma Rainey’s Black Butt.”
But Daniel Kaluuya was named Best Supporting Actor for his role as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, in Judas and the Black Messiah, and repeated his success at the Golden Globes. Korean veteran actress Yuh-Jung Youn won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Minari”.
The British “are known to be very snobbish,” said Youn in her acceptance speech, saying that for that reason the award meant more.
The success of “Nomadland” should increase the hype surrounding the film ahead of this year’s Oscars, which are scheduled for April 25th and will be nominated for six awards.
The BAFTAs are usually viewed as the forerunners of the Academy Awards due to some overlap between the 7,000-strong membership of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which organizes the BAFTAs, and the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Although four of the films that competed for the Oscar for Best Picture – “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari” and “Sound of Metal” – they were not made in BAFTA’s “Best Picture” category nominated.