The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Diversity and film

In July, the British Film Institute introduced a new diversity quota which is far stricter than any that have come before. 

CMF’s Angela Ferreira reports…

The British Film Institute has recently thrown down a gauntlet to the BBC and other major cultural and media institutions by upping the ante considerably in the on-going diversity stakes.The BBC’s Director-General Tony Hall had made an announcement to great fanfare a couple of months ago launching the Diversity Creative Talent Fund of £2.1m coupled with targets to increase on-screen diversity to 15% within three years. This was in response to the (Lenny) Henry Papers which called for ring-fencing based on the model the BBC and Ofcom used for Nations and Regions.

There was a lukewarm welcome to the Tony Hall proposals. The major criticism being that the spend was a fraction of the BBC content budget of £1,789.1m and that there was too much emphasis on schemes and young people.

Lenny Henry subsequently appeared in front of the Culture and Media Parliamentary Select Committee and said the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community had ‘initiative fatigue’.

He also said ‘Tony Hall's announcement last week is something. But with massive respect it's based on an old model that doesn't work’ and continued that there had been ‘29 initiatives at the BBC in the last 15 years and the numbers (of people from BAME backgrounds working in the industry) have gone down.’In fact, the number of BAME staff working in the UK TV industry has declined by 30.9% between 2006 and 2012 and is now just 5.4%.

The BFI announcement took everyone by surprise and was welcomed by Ed Vaizey who said the new rules would encourage the making of films that reflected modern Britain.

'This initiative from the BFI should help raise the bar and ensure BFI lottery funded film productions reflect diversity both in front and behind the camera. I want to continue to see the TV, film and the performing arts industries actively discussing how they can drive change and improve diversity right across these sectors. I hope others will follow the BFI in developing and implementing possible solutions.'

The BFI hands out £27 million pounds of lottery cash each year and film-makers will now be subject to much tougher criteria to qualify for funding and required to tick two out of three of the following to qualify:

1. On-screen: diverse subject matter, at least one lead character positively reflecting diversity, at least 30 per cent of supporting and background characters positively reflecting diversity.
2. Off-screen: diverse key creatives (director, screenwriter, composer, cinematographer), at least two Heads of Department from diverse backgrounds, production crew and production company staff.
3. Creating opportunities and promoting social mobility: paid internships and employment opportunities for new entrants from diverse backgrounds, training placements for people from diverse backgrounds.
The BFI have also included a carrot in their plans.  To incentivise good practice, each year one qualifying producer will be given a Lottery award to fund a diversity opportunity or work placement within their company for 12 months.

Elsewhere, BAME actors launched ‘Act for Change’ taking over The Young Vic in response to the recent ITV Drama trail which featured purely white actors. The panel included ITV Drama boss Steve November, writer Stephen Poliakoff, BBC casting boss Julia Crampsie, and was chaired by Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti. The audience included Meera SyalLenny HenryRussell ToveyDon Warrington with contributions from David Harewood and David Morrissey amongst many other well known faces from popular drama.  There was support for quotas from the majority of the audience and Steve November and Peter Fincham later said that they would be making an announcement for ITV about targets and quotas ‘in the near future’.

How will all these new initiatives impact on content for kids?  On screen, there probably won’t be much difference as we already see a wide variety of diverse role models on screen and have done for years.  Interestingly Kay Benbow and Cheryl Taylor have said that in re-makes of familiar brands on BBC Children’s some characters that were previously male will become female.

However, behind the scenes the content creators are acknowledging that there need to be improvements.  Joe Godwin was questioned about diversity at the Children’s Media Conference in early July and he asked the audience to simply ‘look around the room’ to see how poor it was. What isn’t clear yet is what will be done to tackle the woeful employment statistics and include the diverse audience in making programmes.

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