Bafta produced the most diverse list of winners in its history on Sunday night as it honoured television shows that dealt with race, from the Windrush scandal to Black Lives Matter.

Three of the four acting awards were won by black actors who appeared in BBC dramas exploring the experiences of black Britons.

The one award decided by the public, the Virgin Media Must-See Moment, went to the BLM-inspired routine performed by Diversity, the dance troupe, on Britain’s Got Talent. It was also the most controversial television moment of 2020, drawing a record 24,500 complaints.

Michaela Coel won best mini-series for I May Destroy You, her semi-autobiographical BBC drama, and took home the award for leading actress.

Michaela Cole dedicated her win to Ita O’Brien, who acted as intimacy coordinator on I May Destroy You, and thanked her “for making the space safe” to shoot sexual scenes

Credit: Natalie Seery

Best supporting actress went to Rakie Ayola for Anthony, a Jimmy McGovern drama made as a tribute to Anthony Walker, a black teenager murdered in a racist attack in 2005. She played Gee Walker, Anthony’s mother.

Malachi Kirby won best supporting actor for his role as Darcus Howe, the campaigner for racial justice, in the first episode of the Small Axe anthology.

The award for best single drama went to Sitting in Limbo, another BBC production, based on the true story of a man who had lived in Britain for more than 50 years but was threatened with deportation during the Windrush scandal.

The sports category was won by Sky Sports’ for its cricket coverage of England vs the West Indies, specifically its discussion of the Black Lives Matter issue featuring Michael Holding, the former West Indies fast bowler, and Ebony Rainford-Brent, the first black woman to play cricket for England.

Save Me Too, a Sky Atlantic series starring Lennie James, beat The Crown in the best drama category.

Paul Mescal was named leading actor for his breakthrough role in the BBC hit Normal People.

The gong show: clockwise from centre – I Hate Suzie, This Country, I May Destroy You, The Crown and Small Axe 

Around half of the nominees attended the ceremony in person, sitting in socially distanced formation and only dispensing with their masks if they were called up to the stage.

Coel dedicated her win to Ita O’Brien, who acted as intimacy coordinator on I May Destroy You, and thanked her “for making the space safe” to shoot sexual scenes.

Ashley and Jordan Banjo, members of Diversity, said receiving the audience award was a symbol that it was important “to stand up for what’s right”.

Their Britain’s Got Talent routine, inspired by the death of George Floyd, led to an outpouring of abuse. Ashley said: “In a way, I have to say thank you to the people that complained, who did pour that abuse out there, because you showed exactly why this performance was necessary.”

The year’s best factual series was the BBC Two documentary Once Upon A Time In Iraq.

Paul Mescal was named leading actor for his breakthrough role in the BBC hit Normal People

Credit: Alberto Pezzali /AP

Channel 4’s wins included Romesh Ranganathan (best entertainment performance for The Ranganation) and The School That Tried To End Racism (best constructed factual).

Life & Rhymes, a celebration of poetry and the spoken word hosted by Benjamin Zephaniah, beat Strictly Come Dancing, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, and The Masked Singer, to the award best entertainment programme.

Long Lost Family: Born Without Trace, which featured people who were abandoned as babies, provided a win for ITV.

While the event did include a red carpet, there was no after-party for the winners. Asked how she would be celebrating her double win, Coel said: “I’m probably going to get some food from Deliveroo with my mum.”

Main list of winners

Leading Actress – Michaela Coel for I May Destroy You

Leading Actor – Paul Mescal for Normal People

Supporting Actress – Rakie Ayola for Anthony Supporting

Actor – Malachi Kirby for Small Axe (Mangrove)

Drama Series – Save Me Too Single

Drama – Sitting In Limbo

Mini-Series – I May Destroy You

Factual Series – Once Upon A Time in Iraq

Entertainment Programme – Life & Rhymes

Soap and Continuing Drama – Casualty

Virgin Media Must-See Moment – Diversity perform on Britain’s Got Talent