The speeches were the real winners at 2021’s BAFTA Awards

Here's our favourites.

by Douglas Greenwood
12 April 2021, 10:56am

Last night’s BAFTA Awards brought together a gaggle of the movie world’s biggest stars, while also making ample space for lesser known actors too. In what was considered one of the wildest nomination line-ups in recent awards season memory, new rules injected a fresh and more British focus on the movies we typically celebrate in these ceremonies. Smaller movies like Rocks and Saint Maud had their moment, while typical awards fodder was mostly swept under the rug. What’s more, the stars who actually won on the night accepted their prizes with speeches imbued with truth, humour and emotion.

The award’s speech has always been a high spirited and memorable affair. Halle Berry’s reaction to making history as the first Black woman to win the Best Actress Oscar remains a powerful moment in movie history. Marion Cotillard’s starry-eyed speech when she won the same prize several years later -- a new star who came out of seemingly nowhere with her Edith Piaf performance in La Vie En Rose -- still lives in our heads rent free. Then, of course, Jennifer Lawrence spent a whole season picking up just about every prize for Silver Linings Playbook, charming everyone in the process. Everybody seems to prepare speeches, but there’s nothing predictable about the expression of someone’s life and career changing in front of their eyes.

Which is what we experienced at last night’s BAFTA Awards. There are the expected ‘thank yous’ that come from these speeches, but there’s an unscripted joy and emotion that comes from them too. These are the four that we’ll remember for a long time.

  1. Yuh-Jung Youn, a queen, dragged British people

Anyone who’s seen Minari will know Yun-Jung Youn steals the show as the nagging grandmother of a family of Korean immigrants in America. It’s the same energy she brought to her speech last night, when she deservedly won the Best Supporting Actress prize at the BAFTAs. The time lag, as she beamed in via video call from elsewhere, made it look like she was the last one of all nominees to hear the news. She proceeded to say how valuable the prize was considering how “snobbish” British people are with their tastes. Legend.

  1. Daniel Kaluuya paid homage to his childhood heroes

This year’s awards race has been so unpredictable when it comes to acting winners, but Daniel Kaluuya seems like the only constant. Now, it’s very possible he’ll win his first Oscar for playing Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. Last night, he added a BAFTA to his collection. In his speech, he extended his thanks to the Black British industry talents that made his career seem possible when he was a kid: Cathy Tyson, Roy Williams and Ashley Walters. 

  1. Noel Clarke’s moving celebration of progress

British cinema over the past 15 years has been shaped by Noel Clarke, though he seldom got the credit that he deserved. On Saturday night (this year’s ceremony took place over two nights to ensure social distancing was adhered to by awards presenters and crew), Noel returned to the BAFTA stage having won the Orange Rising Star Award back in 2009, this time to pick up his prize for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema. Visibly moved, he dedicated his prize to young Black boys and girls and the “underrepresented”. 

He also reflected upon the experience of winning that first prize and his attitude when his name was called, something he was criticised for. “I bounced off my chair and I popped my collar as I went up. For years I never really understood why I did that. I couldn’t articulate it,” he said. “I’ve always said to myself, if I ever got back on the stage again, I’d apologise for it. I’m not going to do that. Recently, I realised why I did it. I felt vindicated. I won something, at the time, that someone like me was never supposed to.”

  1. Bukky Bakray’s breakout moment

Perhaps the most deserving moment of this year’s BAFTAs was a double nomination for the brilliant east London actor Bukky Bakray, whose star-making performance in Rocks earned her a Best Actress nomination and an EE Rising Star award. The latter was won via an audience-voted prize that’s famously gone to actors with huge fanbases. Instead, the collective power surrounding Rocks brought that prize into Bukky’s hands. When her name was called, the room around her reverberated, and she sat shocked for about 30 seconds as her mother hugged her. She thanked God, her Rocks family, her brothers (“the Black Sopranos”) and mentioned her sadness at the death of DMX, Richard Okorogheye, the teenager who went missing late last month and those we had lost over the past year to Coronavirus. It was the sweetest moment for a star who truly deserved the recognition. 

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