Factual TV’s Diversity Problem Highlighted by BAFTA TV Nominations, Says Industry Org We Are Doc Women

Female Directors in Hollywood
Illustration by marina muun

The lack of diversity in factual television has been highlighted by BAFTA’s Television Awards nominations, according to industry network We are Doc Women, which has called for “swift, definitive action” from TV companies to tackle the issue.

Announced last week, the nominations for the BAFTA TV factual director category was an all-male affair. For the second year in succession, not a single woman was nominated in the category.

In an open letter to the industry this week, We are Doc Women noted that no woman has ever won and no Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority (BAME) woman has even been nominated in the entire 13-year history of BAFTA’s factual director category.

We Are Doc Women is a U.K. network created in 2018 to support female directors and includes over 150 female directors, producers, assistant producers and executive producers working across documentaries and factual TV.

We are Doc Women published figures that showed that just 1.25% of named BAFTA nominations across all factual categories this year were BAME women, 2.5% were BAME men and 27% were women. Meanwhile, 73% were men.

“These BAFTA nominations, we contend, are the manifestation of deep-seated inequality within the TV industry,” said We Are Doc Women. “They are symptomatic of the lack of opportunity for women and people of color, who are rarely in line for the high-profile projects destined for potentially career-changing award nominations.”

BAFTA itself has acknowledged that diversity issues were highlighted in the TV nominations, with new chair Krishnendu Majumdar writing to members on Monday, and saying they “showed where further progress is required across the industry.”

A BAFTA spokesperson told Variety on Tuesday: “While we can see progress in many areas of the Television Awards nominations, there are others where significantly more is required. The Awards Review we announced earlier this year will scrutinize this, and we welcome input from the We Are Doc Women collective and the broader industry as part of this process. We have also been piloting Diversity Standards for the Awards this year, with a view to formal implementation from 2021 onwards.”

We Are Doc Women spoke of an entrenched bias in the TV industry that requires fundamental change: “The British media prides itself on telling the stories of who our society is today, but with these figures that is patently impossible. When the majority of the content is being filtered through a prism which excludes so many sections of our community, it is not reflective of the world in which we live.”

Following the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, many broadcasters and production companies have issued public statements about supporting female filmmakers, and pledging schemes to help increase their opportunities.

In recent years, the spotlight has also turned to diversity, with pledges being made about diversity charters and a recognition of the need to include all under-represented voices, whether people of color, people from working-class backgrounds, people with disabilities or those who are LGBTQI.

“Yet rather than improving, the situation for diverse production talent is getting worse,” said We are Doc Women, citing a 2019 Ofcom report that showed the representation of employees from ethnic minority backgrounds and employees with a disability had not improved.

Figures released by Directors UK in 2018 showed the gender gap in factual TV had widened across all four of the main U.K. broadcasters, with female directors in factual programming dropping by 10%.

“Today, women and all minority filmmakers struggle to appear on broadcasters’ unofficial lists of ‘approved directors.’ We don’t, we are told, exist in sufficient numbers, that we lack experience and ambition,” said We are Doc Women.

“There are plenty of us, however, talented and experienced, hungry for opportunity. But an unconscious bias means not only that white male directors dominate, but feed into the age-old myth that this group offers greater creative vision. Meanwhile many talented female producers who play a vital role in factual TV are hugely undervalued by comparison.

“This is why we can no longer accept the lip service. Why we can no longer rely on the suggestion of progression through a multitude of schemes, initiatives and networking events that have led to no real change when it comes to decisions about who gets to direct.

“We now need swift, definitive action from the broadcasters and streamers, commissioners and production companies — from both men and women in positions of power — by compulsion, if necessary. This is not just a woman’s fight. This is not just a BAME fight. This is not just a fight for minorities. This is a fight for everyone to take part in, including our male counterparts. This is an urgent call for systemic change; change that will finally provide equality and opportunity for all. It is the only way our industry can thrive and survive, and it is the responsibility of all of us to effect this change.”