How Bafta spent two weeks grappling with Noel Clarke dilemma

When Bafta announced its plan to give Noel Clarke the award for outstanding British contribution to cinema on 29 March 2021, the academy’s film committee chair, Marc Samuelson, described him as an “inspiration … [we] cannot think of a more deserving recipient for this year’s award”.

Others in Britain’s film industry disagreed. Within hours, Bafta was contacted jointly by three industry figures alerting it to the existence of several allegations of verbal abuse, bullying and sexual harassment against Clarke.

In a letter, they wrote they had each heard “first-hand” accounts of sexual misconduct and abuse of power against Clarke, a leading actor, director, screenwriter, and producer. Information about other allegations followed, including two anonymous emails and information passed to a Bafta board member, via an intermediary, about an incident in which a woman alleged Clarke had been threatening and abusive towards her after she rejected his advances.

Clarke, whose management had also received anonymous emails, vehemently denied the accusations and suggested to Bafta they were malicious. The award ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall was not scheduled for another two weeks, on 10 April. Bafta had some difficult decisions to make.

The Guardian can now reveal details about how Bafta wrestled with what it viewed as an “impossible” situation over the Clarke affair. Its lawyers said in a statement it was in an “invidious position” – keen to hear direct, credible accounts from women, but ultimately left with insufficient hard evidence to warrant taking action.

However, difficult questions remain for Bafta, such as why it waited almost two weeks – and after the award had been given – before making a trained expert available to women with allegations to give them professional advice.

Bafta did not suspend Clarke’s award until Thursday at 8pm, after the Guardian published a story revealing it had spoken to 20 women accusing him of sexual harassment, groping, misconduct and bullying. The actor categorically denied virtually all the allegations.

“In a 20-year career, I have put inclusivity and diversity at the forefront of my work and never had a complaint made against me,” he said. “If anyone who has worked with me has ever felt uncomfortable or disrespected, I sincerely apologise. I vehemently deny any sexual misconduct or wrongdoing and intend to defend myself against these false allegations.”

The intense spotlight Bafta now finds itself under will not come as a surprise to its chair, Krishnendu Majumdar, who led the charity’s response to the allegations. On 9 April, the eve of the award ceremony, he told another industry figure that he was worried about the reputational fallout.

“People will say: ‘Bafta knew, and didn’t do anything about it’. We’ve been trying to do something about it,” said Majumdar, adding moments later: “In the court of public opinion we are going to be … this will destroy us.”

A prolific film-maker and actor, Clarke is known for his trio of celebrated films – Kidulthood (2006), Adulthood (2008) and Brotherhood (2016), and his starring role in Bulletproof, one of Sky’s biggest shows, which he also wrote and executive produces. (On Friday, Sky said it was halting Clarke’s involvement in any future productions “effective immediately”.)

Clarke is also known for his role in the BBC’s Doctor Who and ITV’s Viewpoint, a flagship primetime drama that was due to air its final episode on Friday night until the broadcaster pulled the show in the wake of the allegations.

The letter written to Bafta hours after Clarke’s award was announced came from three credible intermediaries: the multi-award-winning film director Sally El Hosaini, the industry and talent development manager Pelumi Akindude – a former Bafta employee – and the actor and 2013 Bafta breakthrough Brit winner James Krishna Floyd.

They told Bafta they were “extremely concerned” about the potential award, given the first-hand accounts they had heard from women, and suggested the academy would be “remiss not to do its own due diligence on this matter, as it seems the numerous allegations are a well-known secret within the wider industry”. Akindude disclosed that she had been a victim herself of Clarke’s verbal bullying.

They received a reply the following day from Majumdar, who told them Bafta was open to further dialogue but said the issues raised were extremely serious and the academy would “need to follow appropriate procedures commensurate with allegations of this nature so that there is a fair process for all parties”.

Three days later, on 2 April, Majumdar hosted a Zoom call with El Hosaini and Amanda Berry, the chief executive of Bafta. On the call, Berry disclosed Bafta had by then also received two anonymous emails alleging sexual misconduct by Clarke.

Bafta’s leaders expressed sympathy for the alleged victims of Clarke’s abuse, but indicated there was little they could do without speaking to them directly or receiving more detailed evidence of their allegations. “It’s a desperately difficult situation for us,” Majumdar said, “because we cannot act on something that hasn’t been substantiated.”

El Hosaini explained that women were frightened of speaking to Bafta directly, given Clarke’s influence in the industry. “We cannot act as judge and jury on this,” Majumdar said. Berry asked El Hosaini if she knew of an organisation that might be able to support the women.

The Zoom ended inconclusively, with vague promises of a “dialogue” between all parties. Bafta said they were speaking with lawyers about the allegations.

“We are taking this extremely seriously,” Berry said in an email to El Hosaini on 4 April, “and spending a great deal of time and resource on the issues you have raised, because we want to do the right thing by all those involved, and to remain fair to all parties.”

She suggested that alleged victims should contact the sexual harassment charity Time’s Up, and offered a call with El Hosaini and Bafta’s lawyers about dealing with allegations against Clarke. “My door remains open,” Berry wrote.

Bafta’s lawyers said the information it had received did not enable it to take any action or warrant suspending the award. They point out that intermediaries were unable to put them in direct contact with women making allegations.

They said Bafta had only ever been provided with generic details about the existence of allegations, and had no knowledge of who was making them or how credible they were. They also questioned whether the organisation, as a charity which did not employ those concerned, had a legal duty to investigate such matters.

By the evening of 9 April, less than 24 hours before Clarke was due to be given his award, Bafta’s leaders appeared increasingly nervous. Majumdar called El Hosaini at 9.30pm, and then Krishna Floyd at 10pm.

When El Hosaini asked if Bafta could stop the award, the chair said the board “could do whatever they want”, but he seemed conflicted. “We could be ruining an innocent man’s career,” he said. “Whereas if we think on the balance of probabilities, we’ve heard a bit more testimony, we could say, well, we have to stop this award this weekend and look into this further.”

Majumdar repeated the request he made the previous week, to speak directly with women with first-hand allegations. “I just feel like I need to do something tonight,” he said. “And it’s running out of time.”

By the night before the award, Bafta appears to have been at least aware of the potential scale of mounting allegations. Majumdar said on calls he had heard there could be as many as 12 women making allegations against Clarke.

At this 11th hour, Bafta’s chair seemed desperate to speak to anyone with first-hand accounts of Clarke’s misconduct. “I know it’s a fucking massive ask this Friday night,” he told Krishna Floyd.

It was in this call that Majumdar expressed his fear about the reputational fallout for Bafta from the saga, which he worried might “destroy” the body in the court of public opinion. He added: “It’s Bafta bestowing an honour on this guy who, what we’re listening from you guys is that he absolutely doesn’t deserve it. Because he’s a bad force in this industry.”

On the morning of the prizegiving, 10 April, Majumdar emailed El Hosaini. “In the light of the fact that no woman felt able to come forward with their testimony on record,” he wrote, “and with considerable consternation, Bafta took the decision to present the award earlier today because it could not stop the award based upon anonymous accusations without a single verifiable first-hand account.”

He added that he hoped that El Hosaini and the alleged victims she was in contact with would appreciate the “dilemma” faced by Bafta.

One woman, an actor with direct allegations against Clarke, did text Majumdar at 3.22pm that day, but said she did not want to speak to him on the phone, fearing he would recognise her voice. By then it was too late: Bafta’s ceremony had been pre-recorded hours earlier.

Later that night, at 9.25pm on 10 April, Majumdar texted the alleged victim who had contacted him to discuss her allegations. He told her: “We are working on this and will come back to you very shortly with a way you and anybody in your group with allegations can discuss them safely and confidentially.”

The following day, 11 April, Clarke posted a picture of himself, proudly holding his gleaming trophy aloft. Clarke’s award speech, dedicated to “the underrepresented”, circulated widely on Twitter.

On 12 April, Bafta emailed Krishna Floyd and El Hosaini, notifying them of the independent specialist adviser it had made available to alleged victims of Clarke’s misconduct. The adviser was an expert in sexual misconduct, and appropriately qualified to speak with the alleged victims and advise them about their options.

Bafta’s lawyers said it made this service available, at no expense to alleged victims, and rejected any suggestion it was slow to put in place an appropriate system to safeguard and advise women.

El Hosaini, Akindude and Krishna Floyd all chose to speak openly to the Guardian about their experiences as “intermediaries” for women with allegations because they believe it raises important questions for Bafta and their wider industry.

“I felt the need to speak openly,” said El Hosaini, “because sadly Bafta’s response was unsatisfactory and caused further distress to the survivors I know. There need to be robust, unbiased systems in place to safeguard survivors.”

She stressed she had no agenda against Bafta. “I’ve had very positive experiences with Bafta as an organisation, and I genuinely think they’re trying to change our industry for the better.” El Hosaini was selected for Bafta’s 2017-2018 Elevate programme for people from under-represented groups, and she has previously sat on Bafta’s film committee.

“I’ve seen first-hand how they’re trying to diversify their awards and membership,” El Hosaini said, adding that the Elevate programme had a positive impact on her career. “That’s why I felt that I could write to them confidentially with my concerns.”

Likewise, Akindude said she had started out optimistic that the academy would handle these allegations in the correct manner. “It was because of my relationship with Bafta that I felt that I could come to them with this, expecting that they would handle it appropriately and sensitively,” she said.

Krishna Floyd has witnessed Majumdar’s efforts to diversify the academy first-hand, and applauds them. “He has done brilliant things on diversity,” Krishna Floyd said. But he said the Clarke episode suggested Bafta “does not have the right infrastructure to appropriately deal with these allegations of these types of abuse”.

Akindude, who alleges she was verbally abused by Clarke at an event in October 2016, came forward after hearing first-hand of a serious sexual misconduct allegation from a female peer in the industry. “It felt wrong to me that someone who had such a troubling reputation in the industry was being acknowledged and lauded in this way,” Akindude said.

Akindude, who is Black, tussled internally about taking forward allegations against Clarke, a Black man of working-class origins, because she knows how much harder it is for people of colour to succeed in the industry.

“Black women,” she explains, “we don’t want to be perceived as going against our own. But calling out behaviour that is wrong is always the right thing to do.”

Akindude felt that, in Bafta’s haste to be tackling the problems her industry faces with diversity and inclusion, the academy was awarding an honour to a person who did not deserve it, because of his history of alleged misconduct towards women.

“If we are going to talk about diversity,” said Akindude, “awards need to be going to the right people, rather than someone allegedly mistreating people in the background and abusing their power and position.”

She added: “This is a call for Bafta and other institutions to look at how they’re awarding their honours. Are they carrying out due diligence? If you’re selecting someone for an honour like that, are you checking they’re running their sets properly?”

El Hosaini hopes the Guardian’s publication of allegations against Clarke will be a system reset for an industry that she believes had tolerated exploitation and abuse of women on film sets. “The institutionalised inertia towards women who speak up needs to stop,” she said. “Because remaining silent and looking the other way enables abuse.”

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