Television and film stars including Lenny Henry and Kwame Kwei-Armah have called for broadcasters to implement quotas to increase racial diversity on UK screens.

The pair, speaking on the Flight of the Black Actor panel at Broadcast and Screen International’s Diversify conference yesterday, called for the broadcasters to implement legislation similar to The Rooney Rule, a racial quota system implemented in American NFL football that forces clubs to interview black and ethnic minority coaches.

“In high-end drama, there’s no faces that look like me. We need to lobby the government. Maybe quotas isn’t the right language, maybe we should call them shared targets,” said Henry, best known in the UK for his work with Comic Relief.

Casualty star Kwei-Armah added that black and ethnic minority actors needed to “punch through the glass ceiling” and lobby the government to improve processes.

“The US set quotas. They did that thing that we’re so scared to do here,” he said adding that broadcasters should allocate spending proportionate to viewers.

Kwei-Armah is now artistic director of theatre company Center Stage in Baltimore. However, he said that he was disappointed that many black British actors, such as Pacific Rim star Idris Elba, had to move to the US to get roles.

“In the UK, there’s very little diversity of the roles for men or women of colour, but in the US there’s a diversity of opportunity,” he added. “I’m in a permanent state of maudlin that that one has to go to the States.”

Action required

The pair were speaking alongside former EastEnders star Sudha Bhuchar, writer, actor and artistic director of theatre company Tamasha and casting director Des Hamilton at the event, hosted by BAFTA.

Henry said that mentoring was no longer the only acceptable route for ethnic minority actors.

“The patronage route is great to a point. We need to kick the door down and take what we want. We need to collaborate rather than waiting for people to take pity on us,” he said.

He added that following the event, action must be taken to avoid the same mistakes being repeated.

“I’m very pissed off with these [events] but if it moves the issue down the road, I’ll chair,” said Henry. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ve got to get on with it. We’re going to have to think of action points to take away.”