A few weeks ago I attended an event at ITV called “In Conversation With…” Andy Harries. The conversation was lead by screenwriter and founder of Fresh Voices, Carol Russell. This was the first in a series of events where BAME writers from across the UK could meet, network and gain more insight into the industry and how things work.
The event was put together by ITV’s Diversity Manager Miranda Wayland in conjunction with Fresh Voices. In Carol’s conversation with Andy they spoke about his experiences and advised the young writers on how to get in to the industry. The event ended with a Q&A and some sort of speed dating networking affair which gave the young writers an amazing opportunity to talk directly to more senior level industry professionals. Well done to Miranda and ITV for being proactive and actually doing something for once instead of claiming to care about diversity like the rest of them.
The event gave the young hopefuls a chance to learn about the experiences of the greats who came before them, and that’s brilliant. But what happens next? Will these young writers actually get in and more importantly will they stay in? And once they are in, will they be given a fair chance to tell the new diverse stories that these schemes and events claim to encourage? Or will it result in the same dry recycled trash that seems to saturate the industry? My fear is that this fresh new talent will get pushed into the system as a cog in the age old wheel, made to blend in and churn out yet another clone of what’s come before.
I often wonder how the many schemes, initiatives and events dedicated to diversity measure success? Do they have any effect; do they lead to any jobs? Do these schemes have any impact on what I see on my TV screen or in the workplaces I enter? Maybe important industry professionals like Miranda stepping up and taking the lead marks the beginning of a new era? An era where diversity actually matters? Maybe a change is finally on its way?
One things for sure, this change we are all waiting for won’t come until the entire industry looks more diverse from top to toe. That means more diverse commissioners, producers, development teams etc. Without this any hope of progress looks unlikely.
But why is this issue of diversity even important? I personally couldn’t care less about taking the moral high ground, ticking boxes and quotas, or even what’s fair. For me it’s all about creativity and having a wider variety of interesting diverse dynamic content to watch instead of the same old same old. Surely this isn’t too much to ask for? Is it?
Miranda along with ITV have shown great initiative but realistically they can’t make a change all on their own. More top level industry professionals should follow in her footsteps and take action! All staff at all levels across the entire industry need to wake up and pay attention. Wake up and realise that when they switch on their TV the content on screen does not present a very realistic portrayal of the modern-day multicultural Britain that I see everyday on my way to work, on my daily commutes, on my nights out. It does not reflect the country I know and love, but instead, dare I say, a microcosm of British society.
For such a “creative” “collaborative” industry one would assume that more of the people in it would be a lot more open-minded. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – art and creativity transcends all colours creeds and classes. But in a land where content is king, it seems that the TV industry thinks they are exempt from this rule, and can continuously dance to the monotonous beat of their own dry drum.
Changes must be made. In a generation of spoilt tech-savvy youngsters we have access to everything at the click of a button. If the broadcasters don’t cater to our needs we won’t hesitate to turn our backs on them and find our fix elsewhere. We are a generation with a short attention span and no real loyalty to brands, so we won’t be afraid to leave TV behind and head to places like YouTube and Netflix on the web to satisfy our appetite for more diverse dynamic interesting content.
Recently, I read that “Orange is the new Black” is Netflix’s most watched original series ever (even beating shows like “House of Cards“). This shows that more diverse programming actually works and that audiences are hungry for this type of content!
I for one already head to the web to get my fix, and will continue to do so until things change. As a young man approaching my mid-twenties the generations beneath me are even more tech-savvy and digitally obsessed, so things will only get worse. Maybe one day someone will read this post and say ‘he saw it coming’! Or not? I’m sure we’ll find out.
Leian Jn-Baptiste is an aspiring director and entrepreneur, who is determined to help further diversify the British Entertainment Industry and use media as a tool for good to inspire social change and progression. He is extremely interested in the way the internet and online services are impacting the television industry; YouTube and On Demand services in particular. He is currently in the process of setting up his own website dedicated to young talent to emerge from the Black British community which will be launched shortly. Leian has a degree in Broadcast Media Design Technology, has been involved with the Mama Youth Project and also other projects at Pinewood Studios and the Princes Trust.