Adrian Wootton, Mia Bays, Ama Ampadu,Tolu Stedford,  Priscilla Igwe

Source: Courtney Andrews/The New Black Film Collective

Adrian Wootton, Mia Bays, Ama Ampadu,Tolu Stedford, Priscilla Igwe

Mia Bays, director of the BFI (British Film Institute) Filmmaking Fund, used a panel at The New Black Film Collective XPO event in London this week to underline the BFI’s commitment to diversity, following allegations from filmmakers of colour that the organisation has failed to address systemic racism.

“The team I’m part of and the executive I’m part of are committed to being an anti-racist organisation. There’s been a lot of change that hasn’t been reported,” said Bays. 

She also noted: “We haven’t got initiatives, it’s targets. It’s making ourselves publicly accountable and publishing where we are with meeting our targets.”

The comments come following a story in US industry website Deadline that included allegations from scriptwriter, producer, and researcher Faisal A Qureshi that he had experienced “racially insensitive behaviour” from the BFI, with filmmakers of colour also expressing concern at the BFI’s handling of its complaints procedures.

Bays was talking on a panel alongside the BFI’s senior production and development executive Ama Ampadu, Film London CEO Adrian Wootton and producer Tolu Stedford. The New Black Film Collective was founded by Priscilla Igwe, to bolster Black-led film production, distribution and exhibition, with the second edition of the annual XPO running from March 29-31. 

“We can’t do it by ourselves – the industry has to be part of this,” continued Bays. “We are just a small piece. Lottery money, which is what we represent, is a tiny drop in the ocean.”

“The notion of inclusion can be a bit problematic. It’s not like we’re a guest to be included somewhere,” observed Ampadu. “You’re not a guest, you’re part of the filmmaking community.”

Discussing whether institutions should fear possibly failing Black creatives in the future if initiatives don’t work out, Stedford said: “We all have to abandon this idea of failure. Failure is a strength for you to build up a muscle that you didn’t have. Even when we are looking at and holding some of these global organisations to account, we have to be very careful when we start to say they failed. It’s not to say we can’t keep on holding them to account and pushing them for better. I don’t want people to get so scared of failing that they don’t try anymore. Within my own career, I’ve made many mistakes and I keep getting back up again.”

“It’s not about fear of failure – it’s about fear of complacency,” added Wootton. “We’re all in a process of change and development. I think that development has accelerated dramatically over the last couple of years.

“We’re a strategic partner of the BFI, funded by the BFI. But actually, for us, the work we’re doing at Film London and the British Film Commission, it is as much working with Warner Bros Discovery or Apple on that process of change,” he continued. “Ultimately those gigantic corporations, whether it’s in skills training and providing opportunities, have to do massively more if the industry as a whole is going to change.”

Speaking to an audience filled with Black filmmakers, writers and producers at London’s Rich Mix, Igwe said: “We have to be autonomous. Let’s have that balance. Let’s see how we can partner and broker relationships. We have to be on an equal playing field. Let’s not be looking up, let’s be looking across.” 

Ben Roberts absence

Kicking off We Are Parable’s four-day celebration at London’s Brixton House, marking the 10-year anniversary of the Black cinema organsation, an industry party took place last night (March 30).

Industry delegates in attendance included Jon Wardle, director of the National Film and Television School, Akua Gyamfi, founder of The British Blacklist, and producer Paul Craig. BFI CEO Ben Roberts had also been due to attend and speak at the event but in the end was not in attendance. 

No formal explanation was given at the event for Roberts’s absence, although Screen understands it was felt that it may have been inappopriate in light of the Deadline article. 

Screen has reached out to the BFI and We Are Parable for comment.