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Culture Minister must employ more BAME people in film

CHANGE-MAKER: Actor Trevor Etienne served on diversity in film committees (photo credit: Mirror)

CULTURE MINISTER Matt Hancock has said that driving diversity is one of his top priorities.

Well, now is the time for him to address black and minority ethnic (BAME) employment in the film industry which has been severely lacking.

Despite the success of films like Amma Asante’s Belle and A United Kingdom, BAME employment in UK film production is negligible. In 2015, BAME employment in the industry was just three per cent, despite 69 per cent of film jobs being in London and the south east, and the fact that London is 40 per cent BAME.

The last minister to take this seriously was Chris Smith, who left the Department of Culture Media and Sport in 2001. In 1999, actor Treva Etienne persuaded Smith that proposals should be developed to increase employment for ethnic minorities in the UK film industry and the British Screen Advisory Council (BSAC) was tasked with coming up with a plan.
Etienne, Floella Benjamin, Peaches Golding, Steve Campbell, Alby James, Bonnie Greer, Gurinder Chadha, and Hugh Quarshie served on working parties with film industry executives to produce a detailed five-year programme to increase BAME employment. The major film
companies said they would support it.

EXPERIENCE: Actor Hugh Quarshie has been vocal about widening participation

The BSAC told Chris Smith:

“There must come a time when the Film Council (which then controlled the funds) says:

"It doesn’t get the money if it hasn’t got the mix."

This has never happened. The BSAC report was passed to the Film Council, which ignored it. Now the Film Council’s role has been taken over by the British Film Institute (BFI).

The BFI has established BFI Diversity Standards and a £1 million diversity fund, but none of this is dedicated to films which employ BAME people. Like so many diversity initiatives, the BFI’s are a triumph of spin over substance.

Last December, BAFTA announced that it would add the BFI Diversity Standard as a criteria for some of its film awards categories.

On talkRADIO, presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer said a film that was “too white, too straight and too male” couldn’t win a BAFTA. None of this is true. To understand why, you have to look at the full detail of the criteria for the BFI Diversity Standard. To meet the standard only two out of the following four criteria areas needs to be addressed:

• On screen representation, themes and narratives

• Project leadership and creative practitioners

• Industry access and opportunities

• Opportunities for diversity in audience development.

In practice, a film could meet the standard by concentrating on the last two areas and employing the following combination: an expert advisor, providing one-off student work experience, added value in a specific UK region and reaching new audiences through alternative distribution and marketing strategies. All these taken together are nice but they will not drive the necessary structural change.

To qualify, a production can focus on only one group from disability, gender, race, age, sexual orientation or lower economic status. BFI criteria can be matched without addressing BAME employment at all.

The BFI has produced an impressive Screen Diversity mark of good practice. Multi-million pound films employing thousands of people could qualify to display this mark without employing a single BAME person and no doubt they will.

The BSAC report said:

“The Department for Culture should take the lead in monitoring the progress towards achieving the targets so that racial diversity on and behind the screen, reflects today’s multicultural Britain.”

Hancock should dust off this report and make BAME employment in film one of his top priorities. With the right action, it could become one of his enduring legacies.

Simon Albury is chair of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality and was chair of the BSAC Committee for Ethnic Minority Employment in Film.

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