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Diversify: Responding to worrying trends in the film and TV industries

Date posted: 20.11.2013

Creative Skillset's 2012 Employment Census reveals that the UK's television and film industries are failing to represent and benefit from the diversity of the country's population. Not only are BAME, LGBTI, disabled groups and women underrepresented, these numbers are falling. Things are getting worse.

Film London is a proud champion of diverse talent through its various funding and training schemes and last week backed Diversify, a symposium presented by Screen International and Broadcast magazine, looking at how the production industries can change to improve representation and benefit from all the talent the UK has to offer.

As Deborah Sathe, our Head of Talent Development and Production explained: "When Screen and Broadcast decided to create a forum to discuss this and incite change Film London jumped at the chance to participate."

From quotas to penalties, awareness-raising to mentoring schemes the day saw speakers including Lenny Henry, Kwame Kwei-Amah, Baroness Oona King, director Sally el Hosaini and director of BBC Television Danny Cohen give their take on how the sector could get better at supporting diversity.

Diversity matters

Speaking as part of one of the event's lively panels, Sathe emphasised the effect a lack of diversity has on quality, and on audiences: 

"The industry struggles to represent the world as it is," she said. "If you can't see yourself there [you] will move away from the industry".

This point was returned to again and again throughout the day: without supporting diverse talent to tell a range of stories, it is the sector that misses out because audiences - as well as talent - will go elsewhere.

This is not about ticking boxes; there is an indisputable business argument to supporting diversity and ensure survival in a new media landscape.

How the film and television industries are failing to represent UK's diverse population

Opening the symposium, Executive Director of Creative Skillset Kate O'Connor presented results from their Employment Census, showing the state of diversity across the sector over the last 10 years.

It offered some tough reading to the room full of media executives, screenwriters, commissioning editors, actors and more.

These numbers are not just a concerning indication that the film and television industries are not representative of society. As O'Connor pointed out, they also mean that the industries "simply aren't making the best of the talent we have to draw on," and they're suffering as a result.

Others had stronger words. "As an industry" said Aaqil Aghmed, BBC's commissioning editor for religion "we should be ashamed". He was met by an emphatic round of applause.

Speaking after the event, Sathe added "Despite the minority population growing, the working figure has fallen. Having worked in diversity for years, and seeing the brilliant minority talent that Film London has delivered into the industry, these figures really depressed me. They and prove that the television and film have not yet learned to champion talent that will grow our future audiences"

From statistics to action

Driven by these numbers, speakers from across the industry took part in six panel discussions exploring issues including:

  • The barriers faced by a range of groups when trying to break into or progress in the industries
  • The challenge of improving on-screen portrayal without reinforcing stereotypes
  • The reasons behind the underrepresentation of women and the disproportionate number that leave the industry
  • What realistic goals the industry can and should set to improve diversity and access
  • Why do so many black actors and directors feel they have to leave the UK to get opportunities? How can we stop the 'black flight'?

"The day itself was brilliant," said Sathe, "but there were not enough people of power in the audience to really incite change and champion a national strategy that will ensure that we are investing in the future of our industry."

"As a way forward both the main television and film organisations must stand together, not creating ‘diversity off shoots’ to fix the problem, but bring it into the heart of everything that we deliver to an audience."

What Film London is doing

In 2013 London Calling Plus became Film London's first shorts funding scheme specifically aimed at championing under represented voices in the capital, this year targeting emerging Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic talent. Film London received over 120 applications for just five awards, proving the demand in the capital for such support.

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