Back to IndieWire

BAFTA Producer Defends Ariana DeBose Rap Number: ‘A Lot of People Don’t Like Change’

"We felt we’re not about revolution, we’re about evolution. Let’s just evolve."

Ariana DeBose

Ariana DeBose

Alan Chapman/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Just a day after stealing the show at the 2023 BAFTA Awards, Ariana DeBose has already gained her defenders. Nick Bullen, a producer of the ceremony, has criticized those that mocked the “West Side Story” Oscar Winner’s opening rap performance, calling the criticism “incredibly unfair.”

During the Sunday night ceremony, DeBose performed a medley of the songs “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” and “We Are Family” onstage with a group of backup dancers. In the middle of her performance, DeBose launched into a rap in which she shouted out the various women nominated and present at the ceremony: “Angela Bassett did the thing, Viola Davis my ‘Woman King,’ Blanchett Cate you’re a genius, Jamie Lee you are all of us.” Her rap, particularly the “Angela Bassett did the thing” moment, immediately went viral, with clips of it flooding Twitter.

Bullen, who serves as the CEO of BAFTA production company Spun Gold, spoke about the number and other moments during the ceremony in an interview with Variety. Bullen spoke about DeBose’s hard work to put together the performance, saying that she had mere weeks to work on it, and worked closely with the musical director and choreographer to put it together. He also said those who watched DeBose’s performance at home do not represent the attitudes of those in the room, claiming that the rap section was a hit with the in-person audience.

“I absolutely loved it. Everybody I’ve spoken to who was in the room absolutely loved it. She’s a huge star, she was amazing. The songs she was singing are very familiar songs, the room was clapping, and people were sort of dancing to the music,” Bullen told Variety. “That rap section in the middle, mentioning the women in the room, was because it’s been a great year for women in film, and we wanted to celebrate that. And here is a woman of color who is at the absolute top of her game. And she’s opening the BAFTAs with a song that said so much on so many levels. All of those mentions, I felt, from the moment we were rehearsing it right through to the transmission last night, spoke to what we wanted to do.”

Bullen further speculated that part of the backlash came from people who “don’t like change,” saying that many viewers of the BAFTAs believe that the ceremony has to present “this slightly stiff, traditional British, middle-England messaging” that he and the rest of the producers consciously strove to move away from. Moments like DeBose’s number were, according to Bullen, partly an effort to emulate American award shows, and engage with younger viewers on social media.

“American awards shows have much more razzmatazz, much more showbiz and perhaps a broader range of people being involved,” Bullen said. “We felt we’re not about revolution, we’re about evolution. Let’s just evolve, let’s just move forward with some gentle changes that start to lay out the stall of what this show should be and where we should be with it. Because we want to engage all audiences. We don’t want to just go for the traditional British award ceremony audience.”

“The social media presence was incredibly important to us,” he continued. “The messaging to younger people was important to us. The messaging to the diverse groups around Britain was important to us. We wanted to get the message out there that this is a show for everybody. And I think some people don’t like that change, but you know what? You need to get with it because changes are coming.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Bullen also explained the mix-up that occurred where Carey Mulligan’s name was accidentally called as the Best Supporting Actress winner, as opposed to the true winner Kerry Condon. Bullen explained that Troy Kotsur, who presented the award, correctly signed Condon’s name when announcing the winner using American Sign Language.

However, a mistranslation occurred between Kotsur, the British Sign Language translator on stage, and the person who announced the award via microphone. Condon’s name appeared correctly on screens in the room, and after some initial confusion, she got up to accept the award.

“I thought Carey Mulligan was incredibly gracious and handled it brilliantly. She understood it was one of those very unfortunate moments that no one could have predicted,” Bullen said. “I think it’s one of those things that people have understood that it was all done with the best intentions, but unfortunately, there was a slip up.”

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox