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Diversity: UK must invest

BAFTA award-winning British film producer Andrea Calderwood (Last King of Scotland) calls on the UK film industry to invest in skills and talent that truly represents diverse Britain.

When I started out in the film industry there were very few women in certain roles. The issue at the time was gender - today the gender balance is stronger, although it still needs to be addressed in key areas such as directing.

There is a new issue now, and that issue is diversity across the board. Although having a more diverse workforce is a positive goal in itself, it is also enlightened self-interest for the industry.  We actively need new energy and ideas and the danger of not making our film industry open to a range of people means that a lot of those ideas will not be available to us.

I had no family background in film when I started out. I was armed with a passion, and at the time there were a range of training opportunities, which actively encouraged women to join the industry. I got a place on the Scottish Film Technician Training Scheme on that basis, which gave me an entry to the industry I would not have otherwise received.

At every key stage of my career, I have benefited from training opportunities, which broadened my horizons and moved me on to the next stage. We now need these opportunities for black and ethnic minority talent in the same way that was offered to me as a woman back in the 1980s and 90s.

The next significant stage of my training was through EAVE, which enables creative production from independent producers across Europe. As a producer working on small independent productions in Scotland, I was able to see myself in relation to producers from all over Europe, which planted the seeds of the kind of international productions I make today.

These training experiences have illustrated to me how crucial it is to have encouragement from people at the very heart of the industry to help realise the potential of the people who are just joining.

Such encouragement is not just about altruistically giving opportunities to people, it is to benefit the industryby bringing in the new voices it needs to create fresh ideas. Having been encouraged by those already in the industry, I’d like to think I have also made a contribution, as a Scottish woman coming into it with a different experience and background, and with a determination to make the kinds of films that have interested me.

It is this range and diversity which is the key, and given the barriers to many people feeling our industry is not for them, it won’t happen by itself - we need to target and train a diverse range of talents, especially in key decision making roles, and initiatives like Creative Skillset’s industry panels enable us to voice these views.

Whilst the gender balance is better today, there is still a shortfall of women writing and directing. This is partly to do with confidence, role models and there not yet being a critical mass, so that it is still relatively unusual for a woman to direct, so she still needs to prove herself to a level beyond that required for a man. The same applies to an even greater extent for non-white talent.

Our industry is still shockingly white, especially behind the camera, and it is something that training urgently needs to address. We need to create role models and encourage ideas from a range of backgrounds that truly reflect the Britain we live in today. 

My latest film, Biyi Bandele’s screen adaptation of Chimamande Ngozi Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun for release in April highlighted the value that a diverse team can bring to the production of a film. It was majority financed fromNigeria, as it was hard to find the level of investment in the UK to realise the ambition Biyi had for his first feature as a director.

Half Of A Yellow Sun was made possible by Yewande Sadiku and Muhtar Bakare, the executive producers, who had never financed a film before. They backed the film for a range of reasons, not least of which was that they felt it was important for Africa to tell its own stories, and wanted to lead by example, by showing what was possible with this film.

We were able to bring together an experienced UK-based crew, Andrew McAlpine and John De Borman amongst others, and combine those with experienced South African technicians and Nigerian cast and crew with experience of Nollywood productions. The film needed a combination of international experience, South African resourcefulness and Nigerian talent and commitment to make it possible. 

So our journey with Half Of A Yellow Sun perfectly illustrates the power that a range of voices andbackgrounds can give to the making of a film. As well as the enriching experience of overcoming the challenges involved in making this film, the multiplier effect means that the benefits are felt in future productions, as crew members go on to work on other productions in Nigeria and beyond, not least in the next production Biyi has directed in Nigeria, MTV’s Shuga, which has been seen by audiences around the world.

Chimamanda gave a TED talk that has now been watched by over a million people, about the danger of a single story.  She expressed more eloquently than I ever could why a range of voices is crucial for the future health of our industry. The film industry constantly needs new ideas, from our culturaly rich and diverse Britain. So to ensure our future growth, we must make the debate on skills development and training open to all our voices.

Andrea Calderwood is an award-winning British film and television producer. Her latest film, Half Of A Yellow Sun, is due for release in spring.

Give back to the film industry and Join Creative Skillset’s industry panels. Your feedback will influence future skills development and support the Creative Industries to remain globally competitive. Registration takes moments at: www.creativeskillset.org/research/panels

Readers' comments (2)

  • We, the audience, benefit the most when there is a broader range of stories told and voices heard. If cinema and television decision makers fail to recognise that then they hasten their own decline.

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  • Well said Andrea. Chiamamanda's talk is inspirational, entertaining and thought provoking on the need for change.

    This is a multi-faceted need as you say, and one that needs to extend to would-be filmmakers from disadvantaged areas and backgrounds and to those with disabilities too.

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