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What are your thoughts on diversity hires within media (TV, film, theatre specifically)?

It would be great to better understand if there are specific initiatives, activities or campaigns underway which you've heard of or direct experiences you've had in relation to the question.

  • I've not hired or passed up anyone on ethnicity grounds, and usually during hiring there's no indication of ethnic background, just whether the person is available, capable, and prepared to work for what I can pay. We usually end up with a great mix of backgrounds and a pretty decent gender balance.

    That said, there seem to be fewer black men working in the crew trades than statistics alone would account for. Same with South Asian. I don't think this is though a lack of opportunity specifically, but would be interested to hear your take on it.

    I'm wary of affirmative hiring policies as the more subdivisions you make to hire into, the less likely you are to hire on merit, and merit is obviously hugely important, especially on constrained budgets. That said, if I get applications from any background I'm pleased if it helps underrepresented groups feel welcome in the industry so we don't miss skilled people arbitrarily.

    6 months ago
    • Thanks Paddy for your comments. I believe there is a lack of opportunity across the board.

      When I graduated with my media degree there wasn't any direct initiatives to go into versus applying directly to production companies. That isn't to say I looked to be hired due to my cultural background, just referencing a wider problem around the opportunity stagnation in the UK film industry (which is why so many talent people leave the UK for other countries like the US, India or now - Nigeria (Nollywood).

      It is interesting listening to interviews by Ava Duvernay and Amma Asante in particular, r.e. their experiences accessing production opportunities. Along with how the groups they're speaking to through their work are represented in front and behind the camera.

      As there is nothing currently in terms of initiatives from what I can see, having something at the minimum would show that the industry A) acknowledges the issue B) wants to positively change and move the conversation forward and C) is executing solutions to develop talent from all backgrounds in the UK versus loosing it to other markets.

      6 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes Hiya,thanks for this :)

      The industry is hard to get into for everyone. Is it actually harder to get into for any one group than another? I know it is hard to get work for all film school graduates. It's great that Nollywood is an option open to some crew.

      If the 2011 census "Black British" identifying population is 3%, did you find that was the actual proportion on your course as well? If so then maybe we'd expect to see around 3% Black British crew and characters on screen? Is that your experience from what you've seen? If I take cast and crew numbers combined, a quick tally suggests about 6-7% representation in films I've recruited on, thinking about it. Lower representation on crew, higher on cast. Just trying to think where the bottleneck is - is it film school entrants, is it a lack of people taking further training, is it a lack of application, or is it people being rejected from jobs on race grounds?

      I'm interested to see what other peoples experiences are :)

      6 months ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin
      Surely if Paddy's tally is correct (and it correlates with my experience) there is no bottle neck. The secret is to get known. People will not hire people they don't know. That's why people work unpaid on shorts; to get known. Get known, work hard, make friends, get work.

      6 months ago
    • Hey @Paddy Robinson-Griffin,

      There has always been a trend for the owners of production (regardless of industry) to hire in their own image. So it is certainly more of a challenge for some groups to break through. I do agree that the film industry as a whole is challenging, from salaries, to length of time it takes for projects to get off the ground to government funding inconsistencies.

      My media production degree had a balanced mix of cultural backgrounds and a decent split gender wise. I believe the issue goes back to secondary school where some groups are directed to specific educational / career based streams which are limiting. I certainly acted while at secondary school but it was never directly fostered in my by my teachers. I had the passion for it and followed it, with support from my parents. This also speaks to my continued drive to write, connect with industry professionals and further develop myself. In school, teachers always talked to me about going into the health or civil service.

      It is also regional. The US has far greater opportunities for people from a diverse cultural background with specific channels set up from BET to the range of Latin networks available, which speaks to the diversity hire challenge. Recognises it exists and is involved in a narrative with the industry about it, albeit a stop start discussion. Ava DuVernay touchs on some of this here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KJWy6TgHBk....

      The bottle neck is training, continued initiatives in areas of the country which have a higher mixed cultural background. Along with the conversation around accessing media roles being consistently had with those groups, where they can access that information.

      6 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes

      Hiya, I'm interested to hear that you see training and initiatives in ethnically diverse areas as being the bottleneck - after all London is the heart of film and a lot of TV has moved to Manchester, neither are what I'd normally think of as culturally segregated. It would be great if more film and TV was made in other bits of the country, but that regionality pretty much died as there's less money in regional TV than national. The old ITV model is gone, the BBC had to close a lot of regional facilities and "Producer Choice" in the 80's was the start of all that.

      If the course you attended had a good mix, but you don't see that reflected in industry, perhaps there are other cultural factors than education? A need to get into paid work quickly or family reasons, for instance?

      I'm always cautious around whether ostensibly equal opportunities for all should be made unequal to favour a group artificially. I'll make up an example to explore - women in coal mining. Fewer than 1% of deep coal miners are women - should 50% of jobs be held exclusively for women? What if they get very few applicants, do they run the mine under capacity, do they pay the women more than the men to meet quota, what do they do? This is assuming the women had every opportunity to apply for the jobs and weren't attracted, of course. It's a slightly simplified example to illuminate the wider issue of quotas and how they actually work in practice.

      You're absolutely right that the film industry is particularly challenging, although more international than many. Thinking back to my last production office team, I had me, a Spanish PM, an Australian PC, an Irish PA and a South African runner, just the five of us in the production office! But it has unique challenges - jobs come up at short notice for long hours, there's very little chance to install diversity hiring procedures, just a need to fill a role immediately and competently as everything will be gone in a month or so.

      Have you any thoughts how you would see positive affirmation working in an industry where the hires and end of gig happen within 8 weeks? Adding paperwork would not be popular and ticking boxes could slow down production, so how to implement it would be a challenge!

      6 months ago
    • Hi @Paddy Robinson-Griffin,

      Alice's points below could help in answering the question around positive affirmation for projects which need faster pre-production and crew support. The other piece is where those crews are being sourced from. Is it the exact same places or, is the net cast wider?

      Are prominent influencers or up and coming production / producers / directors who hale from mixed cultural backgrounds getting the call first?

      And let's face it, in other countries where English isn't the first language workarounds are found for English speaking crew to work in those regions. Paperwork is just that. There are ways to make a lot of this digital.

      6 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes Why should people of mixed cultural backgrounds be getting the call first? People should get the call depending on their ability and NOT the colour of their skin.

      6 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes

      Hiya. I'm trying to think back through recent productions honestly for you - I appreciate frank and calm discussion for sure, and it's a complex subject. For my last PM I used a German/Spanish woman. I met her as she was line producing another project, I liked how we worked together and she'll be my first call on those kinds of projects again, not because she's German or Spanish or white, but because we work well under pressure and have shortcuts. My regular Script Super is an Indian woman, not chosen for being an Indian woman but for being a scriptie I know and can rely upon. You're right that people tend to want to work with people they know, and when you're responsible for delivering a few million quids worth of film in a short time, you need reliability foremost. A couple of films ago I tried really hard to employ the black woman who applied to PM for me. She had no experience, was slow with emails, wasn't available on all the dates, and wanted a lot of money, but I thought about it as a training role. Then I had the option for the same money of someone experienced, snappy and together, and who was available through (especially important in that circumstance). Tried, but it would have compromised the film. That's not about colour, that's about people being ready to take a role.

      One of my favourite directors I've worked with who I brought onto a project when I could is also a great writer. I've not seen a lot of him since he moved, but I'd work with him again in a heartbeat. He was black now we think back.

      In not claiming to be anything special, quite the opposite. Of people I know in the industry, colour, race, gender, sexual identity, nationality just aren't artificial barriers to access. I'm sure there are people out there who discriminate, I just don't think I've ever met them.

      I took your comments on feeling there's a lack of trainings available in more racially diverse areas to Skillset by the way - I am not sure it's the actual case (lots in Manchester, London, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, for instance, but not so much in more monocultural rural areas like where I grew up in Wales), however if that's a perception it's possible to address. I hope it helps in some small way!

      6 months ago
    • Hi @Paddy Robinson-Griffin,

      I think it is great that you are actively working with a range of people who are at varying levels. Consistency with doing so is the key for the wider industry and I believe we're all working towards the same types of goals and aspirations in terms of the challenge of diversity within the industry.

      6 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes I totally agree.

      If nothing else, wasted talent is a waste! I want access to good crew!

      6 months ago
  • I'm afriad I don't agree with hiring anyone on grounds of ethnicity; by definition it discrimates against anyone who does not belong to the groups in question.

    I think getting into the film industry is hard for anyone, regardless of race, creed etc. The camera department is certainly getting quite multicultureal. There are also a lot more women too. Last year I worked on a job where most people were female. I've had camera assistants from Afro-caribean, Indian and even Nepali background, as well as both male and female.

    Cultural diversity is gradually getting better. It still helps to be born into the film industry though. That's where the real disparity lays, rather than ethnic background.

    6 months ago
    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for commenting. Cultural diversity in front of the camera is definitely getting better. We see that more across the pond, but it is moving along here in the UK as well.

      I don't think anyone should be hired because of their cultural background though I do believe the conversation about the lack of diversity needs to be consistently had, challenged and opportunities for other groups of people to be made available.

      6 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes Hi Rickardo, As I said. I can only speak about the camera department really. But as I have said, the camera department, particularly in the lower grades, is getting quite diverse, both in terms of culture and gender. As far as the Camera Department goes there is no lack of diversity. Of course, the more senior grades are white/male heavy, but that will change in time as the people in the diverse, lower grades work their way up the ladder.

      It must be said that it is a fact that there are more people graduating in media studies every year than work in the entire film industry. Therefore, only a very small proportion of graduates are ever going to work in the industry. There is way too much supply for very little demand.

      I have talked to people in the Industry from ethnic minority backgrounds about this very subject and none of them feels that they have been held back by their background. It seems, from talking to them, that they have got on in the same way everyone else has; through sheer hard work, talent and being in the right place at the right time.

      My observations are based on my own experience and not from what I have watched, read etc.

      6 months ago
    • @Mark Wiggins By the way, about a week ago, I had a long chat in the pub with quite a prominent female director of African heritage. She was saying that it wasn't until she was 24 that she realised that she could work in the Film Industry, she then made a short film won lots of awards, then with money she got from that, she made another one which also won lots of awards, then she made another one and she eventually got to position she is today.

      So, once she realised she could be a film director, her talent and hard work made it happen. There were no obstacles being placed in her way because of her background. Before she was 24, the only person telling her that she couldn't be a film director was herself.

      6 months ago
    • I think Mark has hit the nail on the head here...

      In terms of film incentives FILM LONDON have higher funding available for BAME applicants and I know the BFI have done schemes in the past that were BAME only

      6 months ago
    • Hi @Mark Wiggins,

      It's great to hear that in your experience there is greater diversity unaided within the ranks of the camera ops (which I have done historically, along with booming and sound assisting - non of which I would classify as low grade).

      I agree that there is a greater level of supply versus demand. These days talent and working hard alone is not enough. With the digital and streaming revolution, social media evolution and changes in marketing it takes far more than having some form of 'talent'.

      6 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes You are right. It does take more than talent. That's why I said being the right place at the right time, which plays a very important part in getting hired. Being in the right place at the right time is all about luck. I was talking about the Camera Department, not just camera ops. I'd say camera ops are still largely white and male. Its in the ranks of the trainees/2nd ACs/1st ACs that there is a more cultural mix.

      6 months ago
    • Thanks for commenting @Richard Anthony Dunford.

      6 months ago
  • There are any number of reports on the subject - check out the BFI, Directors Guild & Bectu websites for details. And Lenny Henry has been pretty vocal on the subject (Google his famous 2014 Bafta speech). As a Black scriptwriter and a journalist with many years' experience, I can tell you that ethnicity certainly does play a part and can be a barrier to entry in this country - especially if you don't have an anglicised name. Just from my own experience, I could tell you about the Working Title exec who asked me three times if I'd written a feature pitch myself, or the Whistledown exec who suggested I change the title of my doc to "Hideously Black". I could go on and on...
    But Mark is right, you can cut through all that crap if you make your own stuff - and it's successful.
    Here's my blog on the subject:
    wordpress.com/post/developmentbelle.word...

    6 months ago
  • Forgot to add, ALL the studios in the US have diversity schemes and you can apply for - not all require you to have a visa beforehand (and, yes, they do take Brits). For example: www.disneyabctalentdevelopment.com/direc...

    6 months ago
  • Personal Experience....i have worked with/on different productions in USA, Haiti, Iraq Japan. i have gone from covering Kurdish elections in Iraq to shoots in deepest Japan where the're no white people let alone black all within a space of 2 weeks.Like someone said on here and i agree. Its art....if you are good at what you do and can tell the (a) story (or whatever artistic capacity you are in) it doesn't matter what you look like (well maybe except in casting)...on my personal website i've never even bothered to put my photo (and most dont). Your work should speak for you. Now yes there are some people who have contacts and gotten into the industry easier but thats a minority most go through the ups and downs like everyone else. And having lived and schooled in the states sometimes the certain black initiatives "can" be a drawback if all your work tends to (for example) cater to the BET audience. Key is to diversify your portfolio in whatever avenue you are in and the work and opportunities will come in. Eventually

    6 months ago
  • Hi Alice and Rickardo thank you for sharing your concerns. I think it is important to get a true picture if the industry dynamics as you can otherwise waste many years applying to industry schemes and networking events. I think networking on line is effective as you can meet the people who are truly well disposed to working with people from a BAME background.

    6 months ago
    • Hi Shobina,

      Pleasure and thanks for chiming in. Have you applied for any of the initiatives mentioned in this thread?

      6 months ago
    • Hi Rickardo yes I have several years ago. Alice Charles added a link to a Lenny Henry speech that I think is quite relevant.

      5 months ago
    • Hi @shobina jay,

      How did taking part in that initiative support your development and which initiative was it? Thanks.

      5 months ago
  • Forgot to add, there's a book you should really read called Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge. You'll see many of the things that crop up in this discussion. Shobina is absolutely right - you can waste a lot of time applying to schemes and initiatives - in this country. Having had experience of this on both sides of the Atlantic, I know which I prefer. American schemes are much more likely to lead somewhere - even if you aren't selected. That's how I got a TV series optioned, I was a finalist in a contest. I didn't win but I was invited to a networking event in LA where I met a host of film and TV producers. Networking in the US is a much more focused activity than it is here - and with so many channels to fill, people really are looking for product. And as I say in my blog, it's a business (a massive one), not a cottage industry as it seems to be in the UK.

    6 months ago
    • I agree it is more of a cottage industry here. It depends what areas you are referring to though. For writer/directors/producers it is a cottage industry. For us technicians, not so much as a lot of the work is either Hollywood movies being shot here or Netflix/Amazon shows being shot here. It makes no difference to us whether we are being paid by an American or a Brit and it truely is mad at the moment; and long may it last. As I say, there is diversity amongst the crews I work with. Its hard for everyone getting a job, regardless of race, colour or creed. No one has it any harder than any other. OK, there are racists but they are few and far between.

      I think its more a struggle on the other side of the pond, certainly from what American DOPs etc that are working here have said. After all, until about the 60s certain parts of America had de facto apartheid (just watch the movie "Hidden Figures.") There was a famous American black dancer called Josephine Baker who came to work in Paris in the 1920s. She never went back to America and said the reason she stayed in Europe was that she liked the fact that she could get on a bus and sit where she liked. Speaks volumes.

      6 months ago
    • That's a pertinent observation Mark.There's no doubt that racism in both its brazen and subtle forms exists in the UK, even though its days are clearly numbered as the ratio of knuckle draggers to sane people diminishes. However, compared with almost every other country, multiculturalism works better in the UK than in any other place I can think of. I've worked and traveled widely, including more states of America than most Americans and lots of Africa where racism and tribleism is both rife and dangerous. We need not beat ourselves up too much by comparison. Oftentimes culturalism is mistaken for racism. Culturalism is where sociol and ethical conditioning produces dogmatic outlooks that are uncomfortable with others, or worse, intolerant of others; not usually viably condusive to working environments where shared perceptions of reality are required in depth. A degree of moral empathy within a crew is essential and ought have little to do with ethnic biology and everything to do with compatable values.

      6 months ago
  • These are worth looking up. Also look at what people who have done them have gone on to do (eg a number of writers on Empire have been through these programs. Incidentally, that's a good place for you to start.)
    US STUDIO SCHEMES:
    www.abctalentdevelopment.com
    www.fox.com/diversity
    www.cbscorporation.com/diversity
    www2.warnerbros.com/writersworkshop

    6 months ago
  • Mark, yes, I have heard of Josephine Baker.I'm sure I mentioned that I am a journalist. Baker was in Paris at the end of the Second World War when Jim Crow rules were firmly entrenched in the US. There's no comparison with today's America. I'm not saying the US is nirvana but it's often said that the only colour Hollywood really sees is green. For example, Jordan Peele, writer-director of the successful Get Out! signed a two-year deal with Universal after his $4.5m movie grossed ten times that amount in its opening weekend. It's almost impossible to imagine any black director being offered a similar deal in the UK.

    6 months ago
    • Josephine Baker arrived in Paris in the 20s and eventually took French citizenship. She was quite active in the resistance during the war and ended up adopting 12 children, all of different ethnic backgrounds; a remarkable woman.

      I was trying to point out that historically the experience of ethnic minorities in the US and the UK have been very different and this helps forms how those minorities see things and how they act today. People do not exist in a vaccum.

      Also, no black director would not be offered a similar deal here is because we do not have the industry here, not because the director is black. The ambition of the director I was chatting to in the pub is to direct a Superhero movie. There is no reason why she should not, no obstructions are being placed in her way because of her colour.

      6 months ago
    • @Mark Wiggins
      Meant vacuum, not vaccum.

      6 months ago
    • But that's to do with relative scale in terms of population and industry economics. Pro rata comparisons are more edifying. I'm pretty sure that the overriding imperitives of financial viability are no less forceful in the UK than they are in the USA. The market for creative enterprise dictates whether or not a specific genre or cultural manifestation is viable or worth the risk in terms of a return on investment. It's about proportional mathematics. On the other hand the disproportionality of wealth in both Europe and USA favours the culturalism emminating from that rooted in white European tastes. Asian tastes in these markets have yet to see much growth at all other than within the Asian communities themselves. It's quite evident though that Afro-carabian cultural expression in the UK has been much more successful in crossing ethnic borders in selling its wares beyond the limits of its own. For them this industry is very accessible if the talent is manifest.

      With film and television over subscribed with applicants to the tune of about 2000 people seeking every opportunity that's being created by others only an analysis of the ratio of disappointment pro rata between ethnic and cultural groups can give us the defining facts. What this huge over subscription is creating is a significant increase in those trying to create their own business models beyond those of the establishment and its associated distribution cartels. A good thing it is too for democracy and the general enlightenment.

      6 months ago
  • There's a great podcast from Filmonomics discussing diversity... It's grounded in a discussion about gender equality but goes broader at times across filmonomics.slated.com/podcast-8-tessa-b...

    6 months ago
  • And did everyone see the Culture of Nepotism in Guardian www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jun/28/res...

    6 months ago
  • It's like asking about female representation in the industry and you get a whole lot of responses from a bunch of opinionated and patronizing guys.

    6 months ago
    • What makes the difference between your strongly held beliefs and someone else being "opinionated"? Isn't everyone entitled to an opinion that may differ, otherwise we end up with an echo chamber?

      Filmmaking is pretty pragmatic. It's dictated by money more than art or feelings or ideologies. There is no hidden agenda. If a group feels aggrieved, that's not good of course, and many groups feel aggrieved or victimised. In some cases it's more pronounced than others, and equal access means people work on merit. It's a tough industry for sure. I'll bet out of the huge oversupply of film graduates each year that a single digit percentage will end up working in the industry. It takes some skill and a lot of hard work and a huge slice of luck to be one of the few. The industry as it stands isn't big enough to absorb everyone, so it's important to know if on aggregate it's roughly balanced with the intake from film school. It does mean the majority of people will search for a reason they aren't getting much work in film and feel it's one or other characteristic that singles them out, when statistically that group may not be underrepresented in the cultural make-up.

      Now I'm not making a case against diversity, I'm making the case for identifying if there is a quantifiable problem so it can be addressed.

      6 months ago
  • I'm finding it difficult to believe how naive some people are about how racism and sexism functions within the TV and film industry. Has no one heard of the "casting couch"? There are any number of horror stories about the treatment women and people of colour have received. Here's just one: variety.com/2016/film/news/thandie-newto...

    6 months ago
    • Of course there are racist and sexist incidents in the Film Industry. Unfortunately, there are racist and sexist incidents in all sectors of society. It's a sad truth. However, just because a racist or sexist incident occures within the Film Industry does not mean that the whole industry should be tarred with the same racist/sexist brush. The majority of people working in the film industry are not racist or sexist; they are good people. When I say that a lot of the Camera Assistants that I have had have been from an ethnic minority or female, I am saying a fact. This is the truth. This is not something I have made up or read on the internet.

      6 months ago
    • @Mark Wiggins it may be worth listening to the following podcast: soundcloud.com/filmonomics-at-slated/7-t... posted by Stuart above.

      6 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes
      I think self belief also plays a part. As I said about the director I was talking to in the pub; before she was 24 she did not believe that, because she was female and black, that she could become a director. She was wrong. She's just finished directing a block of a major, long running BBC drama series. She got there. Her talent and hard work won through. Sometimes the barriers that we have to overcome, regardless of who we are, are barriers we place there ourselves.

      6 months ago
    • @Mark Wiggins I totally understand that self belief and self doubt can be very powerful. And that we all have a responsibility to manage the latter. It is good to hear that the lady you mentioned in your example is having success.

      5 months ago
    • @Rickardo Beckles-Burrowes Tessa Blake's point that changing diversity changes film sets therefore begins to change the industry ... In reference to Ryan Murphy's work on American Horror Story I think was very illuminating and the inference for me was that others argue it's all hard for everyone are up for making even the slightest change in how they recruit or cast

      5 months ago
    • Hey @Stuart Wright,

      Ryan Murphy's impact in front and behind the camera in reference to inclusion and widening opportunities for all is great. Hopefully this won't continue to be the exception.

      5 months ago
  • Before we become filmmakers we are individuals carrying a lot of personal baggage that informs not only our creative output but also how we respond to other people. For individuals who have not grown up in multicultural environments and have not met people from other cultures at school or in the workplace - and even among those who have - it's a challenge for many to rise above prevalent communal and media-fed stereotypes.

    Also, the real enemies of diversity are not the out-and-out racists who are easily identified but the 'closet' racists who don't make racist jokes or comments, etc. but still harbour prejudicial attitudes that they remain blissfully unaware of.

    6 months ago
  • Hi Alice thank you for your input. Fortunately more celebrities are speaking out about this kind of shocking behaviour. It is extraordinary that for so long it is the victims that have had to feel ashamed and confused by the toxic behaviour of other people who often do not work alone. Unfortunately in a word of mouth industry it is very easy to discredit and humiliate people who are a threat to them without them even knowing. The more this behaviour is exposed the less likely it is to be used to harm people.

    5 months ago
  • Casting is perhaps a separate issue to crew. If the subject of a film is say, an Iron Age tribe in Britain, there will be no black, brown or Asian faces. If the subject is Windrush immigrants to the UK post war, then the leads will be West Indian. If the theme is set in a science lab in the casting can be colour blind.
    But the problem for anyone trying to get into the business is the same for us all. Once you find someone you can work with really well, you want to work with them again. This happy connection can make a set of cliques, who don't look further afield for new talent. It is hard for everyone, and there are many more wannabes than vacancies.

    5 months ago
    • Obviously that does not excuse bad behaviour

      5 months ago
  • Rickardo to answer your question without getting sidetracked Film London maybe a place to start they are very helpful and can point you in the right direction to get further information on initiatives. I am pre producing a screenplay and made some contacts at Cannes. Good luck Shobina.

    5 months ago