Black, Asian and minority ethnic television talent in the U.K. industry aren’t nurtured, while their white counterparts get multiple opportunities until they’re established, says Noel Clarke, star of The CW and Sky drama “Bulletproof.”
Clarke (pictured, left) was speaking on a panel about British drama at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Tuesday. Fellow panelist, writer Russell T. Davies (“A Very English Scandal,” “Years and Years”), was all praise for the diverse programming on BBC One, referring to Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” and Steve McQueen’s upcoming “Small Axe.” However, Clarke shared his reservations about the path to success for Black creators.
“I still think it is pretty bad, [but] there are shining lights,” said Clarke. “But that’s Michaela; she had to become Michaela to get there. This is the problem. Steve McQueen is Steve McQueen. He had to become Steve McQueen to get there.
“The problem is, what we don’t do enough of in this country is nurture our talent and build them to those places. What we do is wait till they blow up somewhere else and then quickly scramble — ‘Oh, look we’ve got their show!’ and talk about how wonderful they are at dinner parties with our champagne,” Clarke said. “People shouldn’t have to pop in America or slowly become successful because other people say they are good before we in Britain embrace them and nurture them.”
Clarke allowed that the situation for Black talent is improving — “There is no denying that,” he said — but progress is much slower compared to white writers and directors who “are allowed to slowly progress and build and build until you become that household name.”
“If you are a Black person, or Asian or any other person of color that has even less opportunities, it’s like, you’re not nurtured,” Clarke said. “You have one shot, and if that one shot doesn’t really work, you’re kind of screwed.”
“The white television establishment — the gatekeepers — are starting to understand that the stories that have been told have been coming from quite a narrow strata of British society,” said U.K. broadcaster Channel 4’s head of drama Caroline Hollick (pictured, right).
“That change has been a long time coming. We have to ensure that it isn’t just a brief moment in time; that it becomes lasting change. Doors are probably opening for stories to be told which feel like they are reflecting a much wider range of British society.”
“This has to be kind of ground zero. This is the moment where we have to get it right,” echoed BBC drama controller Piers Wenger.