BAFTA’s Rising Stars

It’s the only award at this weekend’s BAFTAs whose recipient gets to be chosen by the public – so is this popularity contest worthwhile?

The BAFTA Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award gives recognition to up and coming stars of the big screen, giving credit to both British and International talent. Nominated this year are Tamara Drewe star Gemma Arteton, Inception’s Tom Hardy, The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield, Easy A’s Emma Stone and Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Johnson. They’re a bit of a mixed bag, with an age range between 20 and 33, with three Brits, one American and another who is a bit of both (Garfield, who has dual citizenship.)

An oddity of the prize-giving ceremony at large is perhaps that the BAFTAs honour the best debut of British Writers, Directors or Producers, but not actors in particular. The Rising Star category – which was introduced 5 years ago – has always had a strong British presence of course, but the non-existence of such an award can be seen either as an admission that there simply aren’t enough British actors and actresses breaking into the mainstream, or as an attempt to drum up wider interest, with ‘international’ (American) actors bringing larger fan-bases as a general rule of thumb.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that BAFTA do indeed take the award pretty seriously; the long-list of nominations was whittled down to its present incarnation in November, with big names such as Director Tom Ford, actor Peter Sarsgaard and Film critic Charles Gant on the jury. Though not given for any particular performance, the award is given to an actor breaking through who has shown promise in a body of work. Gemma Arteton, for example, is probably not much better known now for Tamara Drewe than she was in 2007 for Quantum of Solace. Yet, that year, her Bond film co-star Eva Green was honoured with the Rising Star award, whilst Arteton wasn’t even considered.

So it’s important to remember the other films for which these actors are known: Aaron Johnson for Nowhere Boy, for example, starring as the young John Lennon, which it must be said is a very different role to his in Kick-Ass. Naturally, in the mind of the viewer, the back-catalogue of performances will always inform the appreciation of any actor’s performance. The same applies here, particularly so because the people who decide the winner will be those same audience members.

It is the only BAFTA for film whose recipient gets to be chosen by the public. This perhaps offers an explanation as to why Kristen Stewart was last year’s winner, annoyingly, over genuinely good actors like Jesse Eisenberg and Carey Mulligan. What results of course is a glorified popularity contest masquerading behind the genuine prestige of the famous Golden Mask. Though, actually, they make a special Orange Mask for this award. Regardless of that, this is the BAFTAs, not the Comedy Awards.

There is something egregious about the fact that such a supposedly high-regarded accolade should be so whimsically dealt out to whoever has the most texts sent in with their name on. Why does the Academy bother? It isn’t really to encourage audience interactivity, as they persist in claiming, or even to give a boost to the career of a fledgling actor or actress. Sponsorship is undoubtedly the answer.

It’s not worth speculating as to who will win the award; the voting British public are unpredictable at the best of times, and as much as a Stewart can slip through the net most years, it would seem the shortlist for 2011 has no potential travesties of justice. All five performers are worthy of praise for their achievements in this past year.

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