Over the past several years there has been urgent need for inclusion strategies within media to deliver results. As a Black woman from Scotland navigating this landscape – initially working in animation after completing my Master’s degree in Film, and joining the TV industry this year – I recognise the urgency on a personal level. Moreover, as my career begins to take shape, I find my self examining the existing culture and wondering how diversity trends will affect my professional goals going forward. As this year comes to a close, it’s only right to take a moment to reflect collectively on the peaks and valleys of the movement.
2021 has been a year of adaptation and transformation in D&I approaches for many production companies and channels alike. Off the back of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, the industry experienced a renewed drive to do better and improve on previous years. Companies have since operated with a revived vigour. We have witnessed production houses clarify their diversity statements; work with D&I consulting agencies like The Blueprint as well as Mama Youth to better inform their procedures; set long-term diversity targets, garner commitment from senior leadership; create D&I specific senior roles and even facilitate entire D&I departments. Sky, as a case in point, re-established their commitment to D&I in June 2020 by publishing their 2025 on/off screen targets as well as pledging to invest £10 million into D&I initiatives across 3 years. In January 2021, Sky further appointed Denise Peart in the newly created role of Chief Talent, Diversity and Inclusion Officer whilst also forming a new Diversity Advisory Council.
From all that pledging and planning, one would think that the seedlings planted in 2020 would have taken root and would by now have flourished. And yes, growth and improvement is evident in some areas. As reported in CDN’s Diamond Report: Fourth Cut 2021; women continue to represent on par with the national work force estimate, those who identify as mixed raced, and those within the LGB community (lesbian, gay and bisexual) continue to be well represented on/off-screen. There have also been minor increases in contributions made on/off-screen from disabled and over-50 individuals. Examples of this can be seen across the industry as more and more scripted shows that center around marginalised groups, such as It’s a Sin and Sex Education, are being commissioned. This year within entertainment the BBC has been leading the way. Strictly Come Dancing has been praised for continuing to cast diverse talent as well as featuring a same-sex couple for the first time. Also, on Series 3 of Glow Up, 40% of the contestants were from black or ethnically diverse backgrounds and more than half were LGBTQ+. The show also two neurodiverse contestant.
These improvements are noteworthy but they don’t negate that, behind the scenes, issues around D&I still exist and persist. The CND report showcases that off-screen contributors who identify as disabled, over-50, Black, Asian Minority Ethnic and transgender are still marginalised. The data shows that off-screen contributions from Black, Asian Minority Ethnic individuals fell to 11.8%, with the fewest contributions seen in the drama genre. Across the board those who are disabled, Black, Asian Minority Ethnic and transgender remain poorly represented in senior roles and, to top it off, contributions made by females declined this year to 47.1%.
Retaining off-screen talent continues to be a struggle for many companies and the issue is not helped by the rampant bullying/harassment that occurs. This year, bullying allegations were brought against Piers Morgan whilst Noel Clarke was accused of sexual harassment by 20 industry professionals. BECTU further proved, with the 2021 #UnseenOnScreen awareness campaign (one where film and TV workers discloses experiences of harassment), that such instances are widespread and normalised. Additionally, TV Collective’s 2021 Best Places to Work based on Ethnicity report highlighted that 77% of Black, Asian Minority Ethnic individuals had experienced microagressions in the workplace and only 20% noted that they felt comfortable to raise work-related concerns. In November BECTU set out an Anti-bulling and Harassment Charter, urging the sector to be vigilant and deal with historical abuse allegations.
Whilst such statistics are disheartening, are they surprising? At closer inspection, the industry seems stuck in a stagnant loop. Every day brings another article, report or call to action but the change is slow to emerge. Somehow, we’ve found ourselves engaged in never ending conversations and campaigns pointing to visions of inclusivity and authenticity in response to the immortal beasts of bigotry and diclinism. Our efforts are slow moving and often flawed whilst our results are either short-lived or unsatisfactory. There seems to be a disconnect from conversations, actions, and results. What are we doing wrong and where can we do better?
TARGET PRACTICE: D&I INITIATIVES AND THE FROZEN MIDDLE.
Let’s talk about targets – some love them as they establish tangible objectives whilst others think they create a ‘box-ticking’ approach to D&I. I personally fall someplace in the middle and find that targets are incentivising but can only be effective if appropriate infrastructure is set up to monitor and analyze the outcome. For instance, there currently exists a myriad of initiatives, such as Viacom CBS UK’s ‘no diversity, no commission’ policy, that operate with the sole purpose of delivering a production company their D&I targets for the year. This in-itself isn’t terrible however the variances in the way each company tracks D&I goals and evaluates its data make it difficult to track success. What’s more, internal evaluations are often in accessible to the public leading to a lack of transparency about the success of the programmes and often zero accountability when targets aren’t met.
Like kindling to a fire, the abundance in entry level schemes combined with the general lack of data tracking on training and skills, reluctance to self-monitor and timidness around transparency has hindered staff retention. Simply put, many early diversity schemes paid particular attention to young and emerging diverse talent. Schemes such as The Network and Pact Diversity Scheme have been successful in supporting new talent as they venture into the field. Yet these necessary entry level initiatives have unintentionally exacerbated the issues around staffing sustainability – with our sector being engrossed with getting candidates in the door to meet targets whilst concurrently failing to support experienced crew. Elaborating on this, Dr Clive Nwonka and Professor Sarita Malik, in research commissioned by The Film + TV Charity, reported that:
“In spite of these initiatives and schemes (or, arguably, in part because of them) there remains a tremendous body of Black, Asian and minority ethnic cultural workers who have been unable to sustain positions within the sector; the process of diversity policy simply ‘renewing’ itself by focusing on a new group of emerging Black, Asian and minority ethnic talent, to maintain an image of progressiveness, itself constitutes a serious barrier for older, experienced individuals, and also suggests weak outcomes of the several diversity policies that have been presented by UKF&TV organisations over the past decades”
The good news is that companies and broadcasters are continuing to tackle this issue head-on. The TV Collective, Fremantle and Indigo Talent launched Breakthrough Leaders, a program designed to identify 50 experienced TV creatives from Black Asian Minority Ethnic backgrounds as future industry leaders. The programme was announced in December 2020 and kicked off in February 2021 with the select 50 individual receiving regular coaching, mentorship, and career support.
Further initiatives that are across this issue include; the BBC’s Commissioner Development Programme ; Channel 4’s Commissioning Mentoring Network which has been focused on unlocking the frozen middle; TRC’s Super Size which is a national and regionally focused development programme; BAFTA’s Breakthrough Brits, as well as ITV’s Step Up 60 initiative. This year ITV’s Step Up 60, successfully set up 62 opportunities for diverse talent to step up into more senior roles.
However, the bad news is that despite all these concerted efforts the issue is more prevalent than ever. This year Ofcom reported the industry is facing a diverse talent drain and the number of experienced workers leaving the industry has outweighed the number joining it. To slow this exodus, Ofcom has further prompted broadcasters to put more emphasis on retaining as well as progressing senior and diverse talent. From where I’m standing, our efforts need to be doubled if not tripled, because radical action is needed to make revolutionary change.
BLACK TO FRONT
Channel 4’s Black to Front Initiative took place this year and it certainly left a mark on the industry. Spearheaded by Commissioning Editors Vivienne Molokwu and Shaminder Nahal, the project showcased programmes that only featured Black talent on and off screen. For one day only, the broadcaster transformed its schedule (adverts included) to showcase Black British talent. At the Channel 4 Inclusivity Festival in November, Vivianne spoke of how the senior team made this bold choice as a means of supercharging change despite knowing it to be an imperfect and highly risky project - especially considering the uncertainty of the pandemic and ongoing discussions around privatisation.
When announced industry professionals and audiences were stunned, bemused and some even brought to anger. Many classed this to be a shameless performance of tokenism and I thought the same…until broadcast day arrived. Friday 10th September felt monumental. When I turned on my telly, I couldn’t deny the strange inimitable joy that washed across me when watching the line up – from The Big Breakfast, Liam Bakes, Countdown, High Life to the Channel4 News. And when I saw the adverts, I could have cried. It felt like a feast; one held in apology to audiences for the years of slim pickings. Even so, to experience such an excess only to return to the scantiness of normal programming was bittersweet. I feared that if there was no true follow up, this day will have been a farce.
It’s a challenge to decipher wether this initiative was successful or not. On one hand, a fair number of Black talent and indie production studios gained employment with a major broadcaster and were supported throughout. This was a multi-departmental endeavour that mobilised Channel 4 in it’s entirety; and as a result it felt special and exciting to audiences. The channel also enlisted Marcus Ryder as an external consultant who supported but also challenged the broadcaster when appropriate. What’s more, Unapologetic was re-commissioned and High Life maintained good viewership. Yet, if we looked at the overnights alone (which executives tend to do), viewership figures dipped on the 10th in and were higher the prior and following Friday. As time passed, public perception softened but conversations about tokenism lingered on. Also, we have still to see figures on how many contributors were retained by the Indies for other projects. Overall its been a mixed bag and no one has been able to make a finite conclusion, but maybe that’s not the point of projects like this. Speaking on this at C4’s inclusivity festival Marcus Ryder noted:
“I wouldn’t say Black To Front day was a success and the reason I wouldn’t say that is because it will only be a success in a years time, 10 years time, 20 years time. That’s when we’ll be able to judge whether it was a success because it’ll be the legacy”
The long lasting impact of this day is still to be seen but I applaud Channel 4 for taking the gamble. I suspect that as C4 builds on the initiative further, the concerns about tokenism will subside and I see no reason why other studios shouldn’t follow suit. Now, am not saying that we need days for every group or community, but the culture is in need of bold initiatives that are impactful in the present and establish a legacy for tomorrow.
The Edinburgh International TV Festival’s annual MacTaggart lecture is always highly anticipated, and this year was no different. Screenwriter Jack Thorne took to the stage, and delivered a deeply heartfelt lecture on the ways that the industry is failing the disabled community. Jack made mention of the CDN’s review on disability; pointing out that with the current targets set by broadcasters, it will take until 2041 for off-screen disabled data to reflect the make-up of the UK.
During the MacTaggart lecture, he further highlighted the need for targets to be introduced and enforced both behind/in-front of the camera and announced the creation of the pressure group, Underlying Health Conditions (UHC) which will hold the industry to task. The group was also set up alongside actress Genevieve Barr, production manager Katie Player and producer Holly Luban. In December UCH joined the Coalition for Change and they lobby for improved accessibility across the industry. UCH also works alongside allied groups such as DANC, DDPTV, CDN, and thinkBIGGER, just to name a few.
Over the last year, the BBC has boosted its commitment to disability through a number of existing initiatives, such as BBC Elevate and The Writers Access Group. In December, Channel 4 published a set of disabled talent guidelines that offer practice and actionable advice to help indies improve hiring practices and maintain supportive work environments. Speaking on these new guidelines Ally Castle, C4’s Disability Lead added:
“We need to start looking at our working environments and practices, as well as our attitudes and assumptions around disability, through a different lens and see how these create barriers to a more inclusive space for everyone.”
The industry has started to pick up speed in regards to disability and I’m pleased to see that invisible disabilities are now being included as well. The guidelines are a great starting point, but more need to be done to support existing contributors.
Lastly, across many reports (including those from OfCom and the CDN) there is a trend of dividing up communities in order to measure D&I quantitively. For instance, a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic data set is separate from a disability data set; meaning that if a company has a disabled minority their experiences may be erased in the data. If data is reflective of the policies in place then it’s clear that this sector is lacking an intersectional viewpoint; and we need to bring this back into focus so that our conversations are more nuanced.
Come 2022, we may still find ourselves in this interregnum between what was and what is yet to be. However in awareness of this, we can better plan, and move forward with intention as we can no longer afford to falter. We must lead by example and take note of the organisations that are already doing such impactful work. Such groups include Muslim Film UK, The TV Collective, and UHC to name a few. We must do away with the notion that training and mentorship is the key to all our diversity issues, because this is not the case. History has shown that this approach only alienates experienced crew. Furthermore, we must do better at; being transparent with our data, setting guidelines as to what constitutes success; initiating career retention and development protocols, feeding intersectionality into our approaches/surveys, taking accountability when we fall short as well as thinking more laterally and boldly. I don’t have all the answers but these are just some points worth reflecting on. Yet onwards and together, I believe that we can map out a legacy that speaks true and is reflective of the diversity within the British experience .
Sunrise Ishimwe is passionate about visual storytelling – she has a MA in Film and TV and a Master’s in Film. After finishing postgraduate studies, she started at Axis Studios, a renowned Scottish-based animation company. In the two years at the studio, she worked as a Production Assistant and later Production Co-ordinator on titles including Lego City Adventures (Nickelodeon) and Tales of Runeterra (Youtube). Sunrise then joined Indigo Talent as a Research Associate for several months, before leaving to start with STV Studios as Team Assistant to the Drama and Entertainment Departments.