On Monday, Liana Stewart’s short “My First Time,” featuring testimonies from people who recall the first time they were racially abused, aired on U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, its streaming service All 4 and its social channels. It drew just under a million viewers, according to Danny Horan, head of factual for Channel 4.
Stewart’s film is the first of five shorts made by Black British filmmakers under the series title “Take Your Knee Off My Neck,” airing weeknights this week, commissioned by Channel 4 as a response to the killing of George Floyd.
On Tuesday, Stewart participated in a virtual panel discussion as part of the Edinburgh Television Festival. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, because this is not just about the public watching, this is about the Black community as well,” Stewart said during the debate.
Another panelist, Channel 4 commissioning editor Rita Daniels said, “It is a massive responsibility, it is a huge burden and you worry about it. I am probably one of the only few commissioning editors in factual that is Black, so you do feel that people are looking at me to change the system, create more opportunities, which I have been doing actually, quietly.”
Daniels spoke about the need to nurture and protect emerging Black talent. “It is hard out there, we’ve got different backgrounds. A lot of us didn’t go to those Ivy League universities, so you are learning how to navigate that very white system. But it can be done.”
The shorts are produced by Milk & Honey Productions. The company’s managing director, and panelist, Lucy Pilkington, said: “For me, the only point in making these films is if they make the audience, which, let’s face it, is 93% white, sit up and look why we are so angry. These aren’t about the protests, they are protests.”
Talking about next steps, Horan said that U.K. public service broadcasters need to commission differently and have leadership at all levels who look and sound different, and tell stories that reflect the country’s diversity.
Earlier on Tuesday, Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon appeared before a House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee to provide evidence on an inquiry into the future of public service broadcasting in the U.K. Mahon revealed that during the lockdown period audiences for news and factual programming were up 40%, with young audiences aged 16-34 rising 75%. Black and Minority Asian audiences were up by nearly 30%, Mahon said.