As revealed by Variety, a recent open letter signed by more than 5,000 members of the U.K. industry called on gatekeepers to make “strategic commitments” to reshape the landscape and improve representation. It appears some of these gatekeepers have begun listening.
Nisha Parti, producer of “The Boy with the Topknot” and one of the organizers of the letter, tells Variety that the initiative garnered an “overwhelmingly positive response” across the industry, and calls have so far been arranged with the likes of BBC director of content Charlotte Moore and drama boss Piers Wenger, Film 4, Netflix, Working Title, and more.
“I feel really optimistic that the industry wants to help and that they are talking to me, my colleagues and various other industry folk [and] advisors as to the best way to do that,” said Parti.
The letter — signed by “I May Destroy You” creator Michaela Coel (pictured), “Luther” star Idris Elba, “12 Years a Slave” actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and “The Irishman” star Stephen Graham,” among many others — listed four demands: Banish Your Weak Excuses; Empower Black and Brown Independent Producers; Expand Your Vision; and Be More Demanding. The document was modelled after a similar drive by the U.S. Black Film Collective.
Just days after the letter was issued, the BBC set out a ‘Creative Diversity Commitment’ that will see the corporation spend £100 million ($124 million) of its existing commissioning budget over three years on diverse and inclusive content. Crucially, the broadcaster will also instate a mandatory 20% diverse-talent target across all new network commissions from April 2021.
“The recent news from the BBC is definitely a positive step and I look forward to hearing more detail on how that will work,” says Parti. “My feeling is that we all have to be open, communicative and collaborative now, [and] continue the dialogue that we have started and push for change as best as we all can.”
Parti, who has a major development and production deal in place with Sony Pictures Television, cautions that individuals and companies that recognize they haven’t taken sufficient action in the past will need to take more responsibility going forward “and be prepared to be called out if they don’t change.”
“This particularly applies to those who signed the letter — which is now in the public domain — but should apply to anyone that isn’t doing enough to support diversity in the industry,” says Parti.
Elsewhere, a separate letter from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) TV Taskforce issued to U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden days ahead of Parti’s letter, with a list of objectives and proposals for improving representation in the TV sector, is also making positive strides.
Set up by BAME TV Task Force founders Carissa Jumu, Vivian Eguridu, Jacqueline Baker and Abby C. Kumar, the letter outlined widespread casual and sometimes blatant racism in the business, and pointed to the common perception that diverse on-screen talent is often framed as a “risk,” although the success of diverse shows like “Luther” suggests this is not the case. It also touched on stereotyping of roles, behind-the-scenes tokenism and the lack of BAME executives in senior positions.
Within a week, the group had secured meetings with all major broadcasters. A meeting with the BBC was attended by outgoing director general Tony Hall, as well as director of creative diversity June Sarpong, BBC Two controller Patrick Holland and Moore; while at Channel 4, boss Alex Mahon, chief marketing officer Zaid Al-Qassab and head of creative diversity Babita Bahal all came to the table. ITV’s Kevin Lygo, Channel 5’s Ben Frow and STV’s Simon Pitts and David Mortimer were also consulted.
More meetings are scheduled with Netflix and Amazon.
“The fact that Tony Hall, Charlotte Moore and Alex Mahon were able to meet us within five days of the letter being sent feels like a really positive indication for making real systemic change going forward,” organizers said in a statement.
Going forward, the BAME TV Task Force said it plans to collaborate with broadcasters on an ongoing basis “to improve upon existing policies and build new initiatives in line with the proposals we set out in our letter.” The group said it is committed to “root and branch systemic change” in the TV industry that will result in long-lasting impact.