Letter from the Prince of Wales read at NTFS Gala event.
Prince Charles has praised the work of the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in their ongoing campaign to improve levels of diversity in the industry.
Baroness Floella Benjamin took to the stage at the NFTS’s annual gala event, held at Old Billingsgate in London, to read the letter of support from the Prince of Wales.
It said: “I am delighted at the long standing commitment the NFTS has made to training of the highest standard. I am very conscious of the generous help that is provided to ensure that the courses you offer are available to those of the greatest potential talent whatever their means.
“Any successful industry is only as good as the people within it and its future success depends on the quality of those whom it attracts to join the profession now.
“So I could not be more pleased at the efforts you are making to recruit as inclusively as possible not merely in terms of gender, ethnicity or culture but also to social background.
“For the best part of a century, the film and television industry in Britain has represented and reflected the concerns and values of the people of this country and it will need the talents of all our people to take that great legacy forward into the future.”
The gala, titled Striving For Diversity Nirvana, was held to raise funds for the NFTS to enable greater opportunities for women, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, LGBT and people with disabilities to study at the school through scholarships and its outreach programme.
It opened with a surprise appearance from Sajid Javid, the new secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who gave an impassioned speech to the hundreds of attendees.
“We are here not only to celebrate diversity in the industry but also to recognise that more needs to be done not just in developing new talent from BME backgrounds but also in promoting diversity across the whole industry,” said Javid.
“Creative Skillset’s 2012 census showed that BME employment in the film industry was 4.4% - below average for the creative industries and well below for the population as a whole. We all have a role to play in improving this situation.”
Javid recalled an incident from his teenage years when he considered entering the industry himself. “As a young man, I thought at one point I might work in the creative industries and when I was 16 years old I remember having a meeting with my careers teacher and he recommended that I have a career in television - repairing them at Radio Rentals. That’s a true story,” he said.
“But today, because of your generosity, prospective students from every background have the chance to join the illustrious and inspiring list of NFTS alumni.”
Javid added that young people need to be inspired by what they see on screen and said: “Role models are incredibly important for all young people but perhaps doubly so for someone from a BME background looking to get into the arts. They make the impossible seem possible.
“Kids need to see people they identify with at the top and making it on their own terms. Role models help draw a line between where you are and where you want to be.
“It’s vital that film and television is truly open to all people from all backgrounds, something that the NFTS and Government is working on together to make a reality.”
Comedian and actor Lenny Henry hosted much of the evening, having recently launched a nationwide campaign to increase diversity on UK screens by calling for a change in the law to boost the number of BME workers in British broadcast media.
Speaking about his call to action, he said: “It’s a simple idea about broadcasters ringfencing money for black, Asian and minority production companies in the same way they ringfence money for regions and nations.
“The speech triggered a huge response, mostly positive but some people objected to the whole idea of quotas, especially black people. Even if I said quotas are about quantity and box ticking while ringfencing is about quality and competition, people were saying, “It still sounds like quotas to me.”
“The fact is, television is full of quotas. The BBC has a quota that 25% of all its programmes should be produced by independent companies. There are quotas for how much children’s television they produce. Isn’t reflecting Britain’s diverse communities just as important to the social fabric of our society as children’s TV? I want the same breaks as Peppa Pig, dammit!”