Experts at Screen International and Broadcast’s Diversify conference suggested a number of concrete ideas of how the UK film and TV industries can move forward.
On the ‘Way Forward’ panel, Baroness Oona King’s three action buzzwords were “accountability, access and affordability,” adding that it was important to create a baseline now to measure future progress.
She made it clear that there’s a need for more than good will, there needs to be resource too. “If you’re not going to attach resource then things aren’t going to change fast enough. We need to put money where your mouth is,” King added.
Pat Younge, chief creative officer of BBC Production, said when he started it was production driving everything, but now it was commissioning.
“With that power of commissioning comes responsibility,” said Younge. “I don’t think the commissioning group and channel production group is diverse enough.
“There’s not enough activity in terms of who are the storytellers and what are the stories. I should be initiating activity and finding them.
“We need to address commissioning within the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV… The BBC has the scale to run a scheme of its own — there are a lot of black executives at a level beneath me they cannot see a way through.”
To get change going quicker, Younge suggested “you need to organise with a clear set of demands of what you want to happen.” He noted that the BBC does have targets but confessed “we miss them.”
Kate O’Connor, executive director of Creative Skillset, added: “We need to be clear about who is accountable for this agenda…who is responsible for making that change happen? We are one of those organisations…It would be good for other organisations and industry bodies to say the same.”
King said one way to make producers accountable would be to make them honour the CDN diversity pledge. “We should say, if you’re not doing it, we’ll withhold the last 5% of your production payment, you can be sure they would change. And w have to resource the CDN properly to do that.”
Head of talent development and production at Film London Deborah Sathe [pictured] added that public money has a special responsibility. “It’s your duty with public money to represent the public” and that public funders needed “take risks and be brave.”
Getting into the industry
Barriers to entry should be lowered and there should be more education about the kinds of varied roles in the film and TV industry at all levels, the experts said.
O’Connor said: “We can’t expect people to get degrees. We have to have more apprentices, we have to pay our interns…And when people are in ,we’ve got to develop them.”
Adil Ray, creator of Citizen Khan, tried to encourage the students in the room not to be scared of the diversity ‘problem.’ “Refuse to look at it as an obstacle, it’s a challenge,” Ray said.
“There will always be a desire for more. There won’t be a moment when we say there’s enough black people, brown people, women, whoever. If we paint a bleak picture it will put people off. We have to be positive about it.”
Ray said that for him, looking out for younger people once you are in a position of power is more important than formal networks and quotas.
“When you get a position that I am, you have a level of responsibility not to represent but to open doors,” he said, adding that on Citizen Khan he made sure to cast some relative unknowns amongst the cast.
Sathe, who has previously worked on successful EastEnders online spinoff E20, said one problem is that there is “a fear of getting it wrong when it comes to delivering new talent and new voices.”
She said there is too much knee-jerk, short-term thinking, too many three-year strategies that are moderately successful and then cut without looking at long-term stragegies.
She pointed to a show like Call The Midwife showing an all-white 1950s East London.
“If you can’t see yourself there (on TV) people will move away from the industry…the industry struggles to represent the world as it is,” Sathe added.
Lenny Henry, energetically chairing the panel, added that “the BAME audience specifically is not watching as much terrestrial TV as it used to…they do not feel like they are being catered to by the main networks.”
The internet also presents new opportunities for new voices. Younge noted: “If the big broadcasters won’t commission us then we can do out there and do it our own ways.”