10 September 2021 could be argued a watershed moment for mainstream broadcast media. Why? Well, unless you are living in another multiverse or reality, Channel 4 dedicated an entire schedule – 24 hours led by black talent both on and off screen – to its “Black to Front” initiative. On the whole, this was widely perceived as positive by audiences, TV critics, and industry practitioners alike; as well as viewed as a step in the right direction. However, some commentators had expressed concerns about tokenism. Nine days later, on 19 September 2021, the multi-talented Michaela Coel made history, as the first ever Black British woman, to win a major TV industry accolade (the EMMY) for Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series for “I May Destroy You.” Do not underestimate this achievement, given commentators’ noting that there were no Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) winners from the 12 major awards that night despite many nominations.
Many in the UK media are seeking change in their operations, systems, and processes in light of the damning and challenging 18 months we have faced due to the impact of Covid-19. Several individuals and organisations genuinely want to set benchmarks and be flag bearers for change through diversity, inclusion and allyship; this is shown through their programmes and activities.
So the question invariably will be asked: Has BAME representation in UK media improved in the last year?
The Creative Diversity Network, a membership organisation of significant British broadcasters and producers, delivered its most recent Diamond report — a status update on industry diversity in light of the 36,503 reactions from industry figures between August 2019 and July 2020.
The report highlighted that the presence of BAME individuals went in reverse both on-and off-screen. Behind the scenes figures remained at 11.8% last year, down from 12.3% in 2019, and below the UK workforce force gauge of 13%. BAME representation among writers and directors stood at 6.5% and 8.4% respectively; this was a significant decline from 9.1% and 8.65% in 2019. The report also indicated representation in senior roles across all genres decreased 1.4% to 10.7%.The report also noted that contributions made by people from diverse backgrounds had fallen from 22.7% in 2019 to 21.2% last year.
BAFTA attempted a significant survey around its hierarchical culture in direct reaction to the extremely open discussions over the #baftassowhite in 2020, where there were no nominations for individuals from BAME groups. The BAFTA survey engaged more than 400 industry figures, strategy producers, and academics, and brought about numerous changes inside its association with the particular goal of expanding variety. These included: an extension of BAFTA’s present member participation, with the vital enrolment of 1,000 new individuals from underrepresented gatherings; the establishment of a Future Members Group to aid the advancement of the enrolment body; and ‘cognizant citizen preparing’ to help electors in exploring ‘the more extensive cultural impacts that can affect the democratic cycle.’
What impact this will have on growing BAME representation in the media workforce only time will tell but one thing is for sure: perception, attitudes and mindsets will need to change and, in order to allow true participation for all, there has to be a clear, fair and open pathway for creative talent to flourish.
Those who identify as BAME make up three percent of the UK film labour force, in spite of being 17% and 40% of the UK’s and London’s populations respectively (London is where most of that labour force is based). The British entertainment industry is making efforts to address its diversity shortcomings. It could be argued that the past 18 months have not been helped with several productions/ projects being cancelled/ postponed or shelved altogether with priorities for individuals, creative talents and organisations alike shifting dramatically. Whilst we need more investigation into racial disparities in every aspect of the UK media business, we need to foster and develop new ways of supporting and advocating diversity and inclusion to enrich our lives and wellbeing.
By Martin de Graft-Johnson