The BAFTAs — or the British Academy Film Awards, basically the U.K.’s Oscars — don’t tend to make news across the pond. But the 76th edition sure did. No, it wasn’t because Austin Butler beat out Colin Farrell for Best Actor, or that Cate Blanchett scooped up yet another trophy for Tár. It was the opening number, which featured Ariana DeBose, who won for West Side Story the previous year.
Sisters are doing it for themselves! The incredible @ArianaDeBose opens the 2023 #EEBAFTAs with an iconic performance! pic.twitter.com/G9YgKN2e1t
— BAFTA (@BAFTA) February 19, 2023
It started innocently enough. DeBose sang a medley featuring songs like “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” and “We Are Family.” Then she transitioned into an original song: a rap namechecking all the women nominated for acting awards: Hong Chau, Dolly de Leon, Kerry Condon, Carey Mulligan, etc.
Eventually, though, DeBose started saying more than their names. By the time she got to Angela Bassett and Viola Davis, things were officially off the rails. “Angela Bassett did the thing/Viola Davis, my Woman King,” she rapped. (The “thing,” for those not in the know, was act in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which could very well nab her an Oscar next month.)
The performance left people with mixed, contradictory feelings.
Ariana DeBose’s rap at BAFTA is simultaneously awful and amazing. Like, I can’t stop watching it.pic.twitter.com/lxjKrW5vTf
— Brian Rowe (@mrbrianrowe) February 20, 2023
Others were confused.
no way this is real pic.twitter.com/wNf2yIer8z
— persian roman roy (@theronfilm) February 19, 2023
This is so cringe Omg pic.twitter.com/UMuMLsCRlA
— Meech (@MediumSizeMeech) February 19, 2023
Some dwelled on awkward reactions from those namechecked.
The reaction shots in the Ariana Debose BAFTA performance are sending me pic.twitter.com/ru4m7BRWL7
— Nicol (@nikowl) February 20, 2023
jamie lee curtis was like OKAAYYY pic.twitter.com/JSfzf67zR7
— wiLL (@willfulchaos) February 20, 2023
Others pleased with DeBose — a very talented Oscar-winner who was fantastic in West Side Story — to stop.
ariana debose you’re an oscar winner you don’t have to do this i promise pic.twitter.com/0b4pjl3OTX
— 𝒂𝒓𝒂𝒎 (@aramnotagoat) February 19, 2023
Why would they let Ariana, Oscar winner, DeBose embarrass herself like this https://t.co/qwZSYdSttw
— salt and vinegar (@noliejusfax) February 20, 2023
Who has started the “rescind Ariana Debose’s Oscar” campaign and how can I sign up?
— jaimz (@le_jaimz) February 20, 2023
Many singled out the Angela Bassett/Viola Davis bit.
the way both Bafta hosts, all the winner’s speeches and all the films just got overshadowed by “Angela Bassett did the thing”
— Louis Staples (@LouisStaples) February 20, 2023
It’s gonna be 3 in the morning and I’m gonna be staring at the ceiling and the thing that’s gonna be keeping me awake is the phrasing of “Angela Bassett did the thing” on loop in my brain.
— David Gordon (@MrDavidGordon) February 20, 2023
“angela bassett did the thing” pic.twitter.com/yUqdajUvP0
— crazy broke asian (@tribranchvo) February 20, 2023
“angela bassett did the thing, viola davis my woman king” pic.twitter.com/1zNv0cLsUB
— JB parody account (@JBfromDC89) February 20, 2023
me when angela bassett did the thing pic.twitter.com/VB7MEmjPP0
— hugeasmammoth.films (@hugeasmammoth_) February 20, 2023
Angela Bassett before she did the thing pic.twitter.com/FCG0oEgr8d
— amy o’connor (@amyohconnor) February 20, 2023
I can’t wait for Angela Bassett to win the Oscar so I can use this clip of Ariana Debose pic.twitter.com/77TQi2Y9rb
— AJ (@holynoapostle) February 20, 2023
from now on my personality trait is ariana debose saying “angela bassett did the thing” pic.twitter.com/U6DvOd1tfU
— L lestat apologist (@alucasard) February 19, 2023
Some couldn’t stop watching it.
how many times have i watched the ariana debose video pic.twitter.com/dt3leKTJUO
— hunter harris (@hunteryharris) February 20, 2023
nearly 24 hours later and I fear I’m going to be quoting Ariana DeBose’s dreadful BAFTA’s rap until my deathbed https://t.co/NmmrTTYSx3 pic.twitter.com/ib88Xb8xdP
— Alistair Ryder (@YesitsAlistair) February 20, 2023
After DeBose’s performance went viral, and not in a good way, Variety reached out to Nick Bullen, the BAFTAs award producer, who defended the number, which he said DeBose had put together herself.
“We wanted to open the show with some energy, some fun, and also lay out straight away that this was hopefully going to feel like a different night, but with a familiarity as well, and what Ariana did was exactly that,” Bullen said. “I think a lot of people don’t like change, and there’s a view that the BAFTAs have to be this slightly stiff, traditional British, middle-England messaging. But American awards shows have much more razzmatazz, much more showbiz, and perhaps a broader range of people being involved. We felt we’re not about revolution, we’re about evolution.”
Well, anyway, judge for yourself!