Diversity starts early in the UK. 8.30am to be exact. I was at the Diversify conference held at BAFTA, hosted by Screen International and Broadcast in association with Creative Skillset, among others. There were some great things about the day. In no particular order, let’s start with Baroness Oona King. The first thing to note is that I don’t know many baronesses, so that’s nice, but secondly and more importantly she is a fabulous speaker: witty, articulate and makes salient points. I’m starting to develop a liking for women called Oona (Chaplin being the only other one I’m aware of). Kwame Kwei-Armah, what a nice man! Polite. And Lenny Henry as chair.
Another great thing: looking around the room and at the panels, you saw real people looking back at you. You know the kind, the people that are a breath away on the tube. Not the ones you see in boardrooms or on film screens (unless it’s generic) or wielding and influencing power. This was a day when it was OK to talk about diversity, with no eye-rolling or eyebrow-raising or people wondering what the problem is. Everyone in that room – and it’s a big room – was there because they get it.
So, maybe, the people missing were the people who don’t – and they really need to be there. It’s something we repeatedly say at our BEV festival. The audiences come because they know that there is something wrong in the land of representation, but what can we do to persuade the people who are not aware of this issue to engage?
Anyhow, the day kicked off with some statistics (brace yourself). Actually, before that let’s just get it out there for the record: WE KNOW STATS ARE DRY. WE ARE NOT STUPID. But the great thing about stats is they are facts. And when we talk about diversity that’s what needs to be the starting point. We can add emotion, hurt, passion, incredulity – but we need to start from a baseline. Creative Skillet has measured diversity every year since 2000. BAME (black, Asian and ethnic minority) and disabled workforces in the creative media industries have both dropped in the last decade (7.4 to 5.4% and 1.3 to 1% respectively). Women’s representation in the same industries has leapt from 27% in 2009 – when Creative Skillset made interventions – to 36% in 2012, but still has not quite reached the 2003 level of 38%.
To dissect the figures relating to women, I use a non-scientific exchange. I have a great number of male colleagues and friends in the film industry (about 64% in fact) and they say things like, “What’s your problem, Kate? There are tons of women in the industry. They are everywhere I look, in fact.”
To which my answers are 1) good and 2) as in many other industries, these women make up a lot of the middle. In film that means marketers, publicists, digital executivces, acquisition jobs, programmers. These women are strategists and influencers at a certain level, but that level is not the top. And that’s before we even get onto the lack of BAME representation at the top level. This is a problem because that lack of diversity in the workforce manifests itself as lack of diversity on screen. And on screen is where we see ourselves reflected back. Amma Assante, director of the upcoming period drama Belle, spoke warmly of her relationship with her global distributor, Fox Searchlight, and linked their protectiveness and smart positioning of the film to the fact that the workforce in many departments is diverse. They want to look after her work properly because it is important and relates an untold narrative (the plot, based on a true story, is about a biracial young woman brought up as an aristocrat in 18th century London).
In the panel about women in film and TV, there was much discussion of women in the industry, but less about representation. The indomitable Lis Howell, director of broadcasting at London’s City University said that there was merit in direct action. BEV has three suggestions to make, listed at the end of this post.
However, it was the lack of an overall direct action manifesto that ultimately soured the day. We were no closer to knowing how to solve the problem of increasing the diversity of our talent pool, though there was talk of quotas, accountability and government intervention. So don’t hold your breath. The first session of the day stuck with me the most, two lines in particular from people with differences of opinion. Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, was very eloquent and down-to-earth but countered that he thought “people just don’t care enough”. His frustration was palpable – and he may have a point.
In contrast, Derren Lawford, commissioning executive at London Live, had different advice and recalled a positive incident from when he worked at the BBC. Someone helped him and looked out for him. When he was promoted he was reminded of that and also, crucially, told: “Now you help someone. Don’t pull up the ladder behind you.”
Wise words indeed.
BEV’s TOP THREE TIPS FOR CHANGE:
If you see something on TV about representation and it pisses you off then write to someone about it. Audiences facilitate change – as has been stated before on these pages, you are powerful people.
If you work in the industry and are invited to speak on a panel, ask how many women are on it. When the organisers say that it’s just you because “despite asking no one else wanted to do it”, send them a list of names. If you are a man, ask this question too. In fact, especially if you are a man. Diversity belongs to everyone.
Find someone junior to yourself. Be nice. Help them. You didn’t get here without help yourself.