British Independent Film Awards Unveil Gender-Neutral Acting Prizes, Expand Categories

BIFA marks its 25th anniversary by doing away with “actor” and “actress” performance recognitions

british independent film awards
Chiwetel Ejifor accepts award a tthe British Independent Film Awards in 2015 (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for The Moet British Independent Film Awards)

Going into its 25th year, the British Independent Film Awards are doing away with gendered “actor” and “actress” performance categories.

Following in the footsteps of other awards organizations like the Berlin Film Festival, the MTV Movie Awards and the BRITs – and in the midst of a growing insistence within some major American academies to do the same – actors of all genders will be eligible for its gender-neutral recognitions, including best lead performance and best supporting performance.

Along with this shake-up, more nominees will be named for each category. Best lead performance and best supporting performance will each feature up to 10 nominees. The two additional new gender-neutral categories for best joint lead performance for two (or exceptionally three) actors that are the joint focus of the film and best ensemble will each cap out at five nominees. BIFA’s already established gender-neutral acting category, its breakthrough performance award, will remain unchanged at five nominees.

Those aren’t the only changes coming about. A best debut director prize is being added for feature documentary filmmaking, while BIFA’s existing Douglas Hickox Award for best debut director will now only recognize work in narrative fiction film. The ceremony’s best music prize is also being rejiggered and dividing in two: best original music and best music supervision. The latter will recognize when 40% or more of the film’s soundtrack is sourced music, while best original music will award an original score that accounts for at least 40% of the soundtrack.

“We’re very excited to be able to launch BIFA’s new expanded awards categories which will more fully capture the range of exceptional performances and acting talent in British independent film and allow us to celebrate even more talent than ever before,” BIFA directors Amy Gustin and Deena Wallace said in a joint statement.

The reshaping comes at a period of mindful growth and change for BIFA, which also announced new dates for its equality, diversity and inclusion training between now and January 2023. Topics covered include courses on anti-bullying and harassment, fair recruitment in the workplace and unconscious bias courses.

This year’s BIFA ceremony is slated for Dec. 4; nominations under these new categories will be announced Nov. 3.