Film & TV Industry has ‘No Formal Accountability’ for Racism
A series of landmark studies have found that there is “no formal accountability” for racism in the UK film and TV industry.
Two studies have found that the UK film and TV industry has “no formal accountability” for racism.
Commissioned by the Film and TV Charity, the studies look at racial diversity initiatives and anti-racism in the UK industry.
They imply that “creative diversity” agendas have shied away from heavy-hitting interrogations of racism within the sector and that there is “no formal accountability” on racism in the industry.
Sasha Salmon, a senior public policy advisor and an expert in anti-racism and equality, says:
“Many of the commitments made by large institutions in the UK point to ‘diversity schemes’.
“There are strong and very mixed views as to whether these are valuable or simply performative.”
Dr Clive Nwonka and Professor Sarita Malik looked at the trajectories of programs.
They found a “knowledge deficit” within the sector, stemming from a failure among the institutions responsible for diversity funding and training to be transparent about their impact.
The report also highlights a “lost generation” of off-screen talent that is older than those supported by current training and development initiatives and who struggle to sustain positions in the field.
They fall through the gaps of talent schemes, which constantly renew themselves by focusing on new groups of BAME talent instead of helping those who are further along in their careers.
Professor Sarita Malik told Variety:
“There’s a strong link between the idea of diversity being something modern and new — and it’s not.”
“There is a long legacy and history of Black and Asian communities involved in cultural production, and yet when you look at training and skills, it’s focused on the younger generation and skilling up.
“The emphasis lies in training, when actually there is a skillset there that hasn’t been historically invested in and drawn on.”
Ms Salmon conducted her own work, interviewing 55 people about their views on ant-racism in the industry.
The majority of her interviewees had taken part in a diversity scheme at one point.
She says: “The emotional and facial response to just hearing the word ‘scheme’ was notable.
“Several had strong negative reactions, dismissing schemes as ‘performative,’ ‘tokenistic,’ ‘non-impactful,’ ’embarrassing and humiliating,’ a ‘photo opportunity’ and ‘box-ticking exercise’.”
The responses also highlighted a lack of accountability in tackling racism and discrimination in the UK film and TV industry.
Ms Salmon continued: “A commonly used phrase was that big institutions are ‘marking their own homework’.
“Many claimed a lot of diversity and inclusion work is performative, designed to minimise PR risk and ‘respond’ to complaints, with institutions doing what they think they need to rather than what’s effective.”
On the film industry, Dr Clive Nwonka and Professor Malik wrote:
“There is a notable absence of an account, analysis or explanation from the various institutions and organisations as to why such schemes and initiatives have produced stagnated or in many instances regressive outcomes for Black and Ethnic Minorities in the film sector.”
The BFI’s Diversity Standards are especially problematic, as they employ “loose and fluid” mechanisms that currently allow a film production to easily pass the standards without any significant reference to race/ethnicity.
The television sector fared better, with a better level of engagement across British broadcasters, which have set internal diversity targets.
But there is still a lack of publicly available diversity data.
Alex Pumfrey, CEO of the Film and TV Charity, says:
“There’s a really important point that comes out of Clive and Sarita’s work around accountability that, for me, is essential and non-negotiable.”
He added that the lack of data on the progress of diversity initiatives has “hindered cumulative learning”.
“That’s what we should have been doing — we should have been learning cumulatively about what works and what doesn’t.
“The lack of accountability means it hasn’t ever felt like an upwards trajectory of progress; it’s felt like an up and down.”
Mr Pumfrey pointed out that the UK film and TV industry should have a “massive headstart” compared to other sectors but it does not feel like that because “we haven’t been doing that cumulative learning”.
The Film and TV Charity has set aside 30% of its future grant spend for BAME workers in the industry.
It has also set aside £1 million to distribute to under-funded anti-racist community leaders and groups over a period of three years.
Both Dr Nwonka and Professor Malik have suggested a host of changes in the industry, including an independent external review of anti-racism policies and approaches at BBC Films and Film Four, with data made publicly available.
They have also called for expansive data sets that provide clearer information.
The Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) has been advised to take a more dynamic role in the industry’s racial equality agenda.