Marcus Ryder, The New Black Film Collective Xpo

Source: Screen file

Marcus Ryder, The New Black Film Collective Xpo

Marcus Ryder, CEO of the UK’s Film and TV Charity, has unveiled details today (March 28) of a fund to support Black and Global Majority creatives, at the final day of The New Black Film Collective Xpo in London.

The Reel Impact Fund, steered by Anita Herbert, will offer grants of up to £10,000 for individuals and £25,000 for companies, with applications opening from May 13-June 30, and an independent panel assessing the applications.

Reel Impact aims to support mid to senior level Black and Global Majority individuals, as well as Black and Global Majority-led production companies and organisations working behind the scenes in film, TV and cinema. It was developed off the back of the charity’s £1m impact partnership programme, that was set up in the wake of the murder of Black American George Floyd in 2020 and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The scope of the fund, Herbert says, is “deliberately broad in its criteria”.

During his keynote address, Ryder addressed the ongoing challenges facing Black creatives and individuals from minoritised ethnic groups in the film and TV industries. “We as Black and brown people are the only people who are going to change it,” he said.

“For me, the most telling part of my story, is that I no longer work in television production,” said the former BBC exec. “I work for a charity that supports the industry. I love my job, but I am one of those senior Black executives who found the only way to progress was to effectively leave television and film production. I do not want the people coming up behind me to feel that they have to make the same choice, or if they do, they do it out of choice, and not out of necessity.”

Ryder pointed towards some stark statistics: according to a 2018 report by Directors UK, over 96% of registered directors working in television were white. A 2020 report from a Creative Diversity Network said fewer than 2% of writers in British television identify as Black.

“The key philosophy behind the [Reel Impact] programme is that there are no saviours. There are definitely no white saviours. The answers to these problems will come from Black and Asian people ourselves.”

The programme has been designed by a group of people of colour working in the film and TV industry: They include Anjani Patel, head of inclusion and diversity at Pact; Joseph A. Adesunloye, producer, writer and director; Rico Johnson-Sinclair, former BFI race equality lead and Warner Bros Discovery director of CrewHQ Studios at Leavesden; and producers Dominic Buchanan and Tolu Stedford.

“[The programme designers] said, we don’t know the answer,” Ryder continued. ”They said let’s create a broad, open-ended grant scheme in which it is the applicants who decide how they are going to overcome the racism and the obstacles they face. We are making the money available for Black and Global Majority individuals and organisations who exist to challenge anti-racism practices in the industry and can demonstrate how receiving the money will help them challenge that racism.”

“It’s a bit grey, but I do that with pride,” he said. “Because no one individual, no one organisation has the answers. It is the essence of Black and Global Majority empowerment.”

The New Black Film Collective Xpo

Now in its third year, the Xpo is the brainchild of Priscilla Igwe. It aims to bring Black talent from the screen industries to “connect, network, provide and prosper”. The four-day event took place at London’s Rich Mix, with speakers including BFI Filmmaking Fund director Mia Bays; BFI production inclusion manager Leon Oteng; Warner Bros Discovery’s Johnson-Sinclair; head of the BFI Doc Society Luke Moody; Film London’s head of skills Babak Jani; chair of Bectu’s Black members committee Faisal Qureshi; British Council’s director of film Briony Hanson; and distribution consultant Delphine Lievens.

Celia Small, Briony Hanson, Rico Johnson-Sinclair, Priscilla Igwe, Leon Oteng, Mia Bays

Source: Screen file

Celia Small, Briony Hanson, Rico Johnson-Sinclair, Priscilla Igwe, Leon Oteng, Mia Bays

A key talking point at the Xpo was the hackneyed trope of Black stories on screen always have to be about hardship.

“It’s very easy for Black stories about crime and about drugs to be put on social and put to the audiences because that’s people’s understanding of what people want to watch,” said Oteng. “Stories about culture and joy are being told, they just haven’t been represented as well.

“It’s changing – but they are still in the minority for those stories. They are out there, but it’s been difficult to get people to put backing behind it.”

“More stories that are diverse need to be funded, and diverse perspectives need to be funded,” added Johnson-Sinclair. “But equally, we need to start talking about how we market those stories and how we bring in audience to their stories, because ultimately, funding is led by audiences.”

The need for change within the major film and TV institutions was also addressed. “I get the frustrations,” said Oteng. “I wouldn’t be doing the work at an institutional level if I didn’t think there was change [happening]. It’s going to take time, and there is still working around, going through the windows and the backdoors, that we’re doing on behalf of everyone.”