Are finally seeing fundamental change in the industry?

First published on: 24th June 2020

The impact of the far-reaching BLM movement is still being felt. As a cultural reckoning continues, are we finally seeing fundamental change in the TV and film industry or is it just paying lip service? By Sarah Bradbury.

The BLM movement has already prompted TV platforms to root out examples of racist material. TV shows using blackface, such as Little Britain and most recently 30 Rock, were quick to get the chop, as well as films, such as Gone with the Wind.

You could see this as a step forward. But now there are calls for the industry to go much further in dismantling the systemic racism and bias that exists in the structures that produce TV and film, not just censoring the content created in the past.

Over 5,000 creatives, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michaela Coel and Idris Elba, have signed an open letter demanding the UK film and TV industry “put its money and practices where its mouth is…after decades of enabling racism in your ranks” and empower more BAME producers.

Director Steve McQueen has also attacked the industry, telling the Observer: “Many people in the industry go along with it as if it is normal. It’s not normal. It is anything but normal. It’s blindingly, obviously wrong. It’s blatant racism. Fact. I grew up with it.”

There are signs the industry is listening. The BBC has announced it will commit a whopping £100m of its TV budget over the next three years to increase diversity and inclusion.

It’s set a target that 20% of off-screen talent must come from under-represented groups, including those with a disability, from a BAME or disadvantaged socio-economic background

It will also apply three diversity “tests”, which programmes need to meet two of:

  1. diverse stories and portrayal on-screen
  2. diverse production teams and talent
  3. diverse-led production companies.

June Sarpong, BBC’s director of creative diversity, said: “As a black woman, I feel and share in the pain that so many are feeling worldwide. It makes it all the more important that we show up now not just with words but with meaningful action.”

It’s clear we need better representation in front and behind the camera if we are ever to see a genuine transformation in the way content is produced. Are such changes finally afoot or is the industry only paying lip-service to the BLM movement while it’s in the headlines?

What to watch from Black creatives on BBC Player now:

  • I May Destroy You – consent drama written, co-directed and starring Michaela Coel
  • Sitting in Limbo – feature-length drama inspired by the Windrush scandal
  • I Am Not Your Negro – documentary film based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House