It’s been almost two months since the media executive, who recently won a BAFTA for his Kate Winslet-led Channel 4 drama “I Am Ruth,” finished his three-year term as chair of the British Academy, handing over the reins to agency boss Sara Putt. But it took a minute, he says, to stop going on high alert every time he clocked a buzzy topic that BAFTA might be asked to comment on.
“You see something online and you think, ‘Oh I wonder how we should respond?’” says Majumdar, known to most in the industry as simply ‘Krish.’ “And then it’s like, ‘No, no. I don’t do that’ … I’m just a member. I’m not on any committees. I’m not a trustee. I don’t speak on their behalf anymore.”
Majumdar was appointed as chair of BAFTA in June 2020, and his tenure coincided with tectonic shifts for the industry as well as the British Academy itself. It also became personal, with Majumdar becoming the subject of a defamatory article related to the scandal around actor Noel Clarke, who was accused in 2021 of sexual harassment and bullying by numerous women as part of an investigation by The Guardian, shortly after he was awarded a special BAFTA award.
The BAFTA veteran is the first to admit to an eventful experience, particularly for a role that’s voluntary and separate to the paid staff led by CEO Jane Millichip — but in many ways, he says, it “goes with the territory.”
Majumdar’s introduction to BAFTA was through a 2005 nomination for best new factual director for the Channel 4 program “Who You Calling a N—?” He soon found himself producing various events for the org, and was eventually asked to join the learning events and television committees, later winding up as chair of the former.
“I didn’t even know at the time, but if you were the chair of the committee, you would be on the board,” he says. “I was 31 and new to it all, and on the board with heavyweights like [‘Shakespeare in Love’ producer] David Parfitt and [‘Notting Hill’ producer] Duncan Kenworthy.”
Majumdar rose through the ranks over the years, heading up the TV committee in 2015 and becoming deputy chair of the org in 2019. In 2020, he succeeded “1917” producer Pippa Harris as chair, becoming the first person of color — and the youngest — to take on the role.
When he officially started as chair in June 2020, the British Academy was only a few months out from the #BAFTASoWhite scandal, in which only white actors received acting nominations for the 2020 awards. Did Majumdar as deputy chair recognize that the awards were headed that way early on?
“Sometimes, BAFTA — being the end of the process — becomes a punch bag,” he says. “It’s a lightning rod for all the good and ills of the industry, and the awards are a snapshot of what is being commissioned, made and put forward.” Even so, he adds, “We realized something needed to be done, and we tried to do it.”
Following the outcry, BAFTA carried out a major seven-month review that involved 50 external meetings with industry stakeholders (Variety editors were also part of this process), followed by numerous internal meetings to analyze the findings. “We had a huge amount of data and responses, and we would whittle it down and debate it repeatedly,” says Majumdar. “Everything was on the table.”
The review led to 120 changes across BAFTA’s operations and awards. They included the expansion of the outstanding British film category to 10 nominations; a longlisting round across all categories that aimed to level the playing field in acting and directing with specific juries that put forward nominees; and the introduction of 1,000 new members from underrepresented groups.
“We got the industry talking and the thing I was most proud of is that BAFTA listened,” says Majumdar. “Some of those sessions were incredibly difficult and painful — particularly one with actors and people from different ethnic minorities, and disabled creatives. I listened on some of those Zoom sessions and I just broke down and wept. It was a really a cathartic moment.”
Nonetheless, BAFTA has faced scrutiny for some of its sweeping changes. In 2021 and 2022, only two nominees in each performance category were the result of votes by the membership, while four were selected by juries. Meanwhile, all six director nominees were selected by a jury. The resulting nominations were refreshingly diverse, but BAFTA was criticized for not placing more trust in its membership and voting chapters.
In 2023, the rules changed to allow an equal split between voting-based nominees and jury-based nominees in each performance category. The directing category included two vote-based nominees and four jury-based nominees.
“Every year, there are changes,” explains Majumdar. “We see what works, and what doesn’t work, and what levers are being pulled. There’s never interference in the final round of voting. Sometimes I think there’s unfair criticism because [the nominations are the result of] what’s commissioned, made and marketed. It’s what’s put forward and entered for the awards.”
However polarizing the new rules may have been in some circles, BAFTA’s strategy shift has yielded results. This year, 10 of the 24 nominees across the performance categories were ethnically diverse (even though all the eventual winners were white). Meanwhile, prior to 2020, there had been just six nominations for women in the best director category, and only one win (for Kathryn Bigelow with “The Hurt Locker”) in 54 years. Following the review, in the last three years alone, there have been nine women nominated with two winning best director.
While Majumdar and BAFTA received high praise for its diversity review, just eight months later, the media narrative shifted virtually overnight as the Noel Clarke scandal erupted following a bombshell Guardian investigation. In the article, multiple women detailed sexual harassment and bullying allegations against the actor-director, who has denied all the claims. In March 2021, BAFTA had named Clarke as the recipient of its Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema award, and he appeared in the televised ceremony to accept the honor.
Shortly after the story was published — with a line noting that BAFTA knew about the allegations almost two weeks prior to Clarke accepting the honor during the show — BAFTA suspended Clarke’s membership and award. The org made it clear that it “did not know about any allegations” about the actor prior to announcing the award in late March, and had pressed on due to a lack of evidence.
Matters grew worse when The Times of London ran a story titled: “Bafta boss Krishnendu Majumdar worked with scandal star Noel Clarke on diversity,” falsely suggesting that the BAFTA chair had close ties to Clarke. (In fact, Majumdar had never met or worked with Clarke.) The story was also picked up by MailOnline, leading the British Academy to make legal complaints to the publications for defamation. Both outlets made apologies and retractions and The Times also paid damages.
Reflecting on the period, Majumdar is still visibly shaken by the ordeal. “It goes with the territory if you’re a person of color in public life, or at a high level of office — I would say you do get abuse,” he says. “It was very tough on my mental health and my family.”
“I’ve learned a huge amount from that, but it was really surprising — it’s Kafka-esque,” continues Majumdar. “It’s like, the Times comes to ask you a bunch of questions and then completely ignore that, and write something false and defamatory and then they pay out, but they’ve got their story. They’ve done their damage.”
Majumdar notes that BAFTA were “fully behind” him, and provided lawyers to assist with his case. But the experience has given him a different perspective on how anyone in the public eye survives damaging allegations.
“I worry about people who work at the broadcasters when a big story happens, and then suddenly they’re in the spotlight, rightly or wrongly, and people are outside the house or writing things about them and attacking them,” says Majumdar. “I do worry about that and the effect it has on leaders … I think you have to have almost this imaginary coat of armor that kind of deflects it. I became much, much stronger for it, but it was shocking. It was a very public, racist attack.”
Majumdar maintains that BAFTA “acted entirely appropriately with the information it had at the time” in giving Clarke the award and allowing him to accept it during the ceremony. “I think we did the right thing,” he says. “We were exceptionally thorough and meticulous with what we did and the care we took, but it’s difficult when you have very little information.”
Nonetheless, Majumdar notes that the event was a “moment of truth and shame for the industry.” The establishment this fall of the Creative Industry Independent Standards Authority (CIISA), an independent standards body in the U.K. to tackle bullying and harassment claims, will go some way in providing a mediator in such complex situations, he adds, so that organizations such as BAFTA don’t find themselves in the crosshairs. “I’m supportive of it, and I really want it to succeed because the industry needs it,” he says.
Now a few years on from the Clarke affair, Majumdar is content to serve BAFTA simply as a member.
“My life has been enriched massively” for being a part of BAFTA, he says, but it’s time to take on a different profile, and focus on his film and TV projects. Majumdar heads up Me + You Productions with co-founder Richard Yee, and recently announced their new Channel 4 commission “Alice & Jack,” starring Andrea Riseborough and Domhnall Gleeson. Meanwhile, he’s also producing the Toronto Film Festival-premiering film “Close to You,” starring Elliot Page.
“It was a tough, tough shoot, but it was really special,” says Majumdar of the Canada-shot production. “The film is small and intimate and personal, and I think it will have a huge impact. Elliot Page is extraordinary.”
How does he feel to finally be moving on from BAFTA after almost 20 years?
“I’ve done my bit,” says Majumdar. “I’ve made my contribution. I feel happy I’ve done that and that we can move on. I’ll be a supporter and cheerleader — from the sidelines.”