Meanwhile, across the pond…
#BAFTABLACKOUT is to the UK what #OscarsSoWhite is to the USA, as black British actors, filmmakers, and other industry creatives have announced that they are planning a peaceful protest that will be held outside this year’s BAFTA’s ceremony (the BAFTA’s are essentially the UK equivalent of the Oscars – the British Academy of Film and Television Arts).
The 2016 BAFTAs takes place tomorrow night, February 14, and the organization behind the planned protest is called the Creatives of Colour Network, led by actor/director Leon Herbert.
“The protest is not against BAFTA per se, but against the film industry. The problem is that all the judging panels are white. I want to create a level playing field,” Hebert says in the below video released by the network.
This year, only 2 black actors are nominated for BAFTAs: Idris Elba, for Best Supporting Actor ("Beasts of No Nation"), and John Boyega for the Rising Star Award for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
In response to the planned protest, BAFTA chief Amanda Berry actually supports it, telling the BBC’s NewsBeat that she agrees the awards are indeed always not diverse enough, but she puts the blame on the UK film industry itself for not being diverse enough; much like we here in the USA make the argument that Hollywood studio output is not diverse enough, and that lack of diversity then impacts the Academy’s choices or lack thereof, in terms of the basket of potential nominees.
BAFTA members (like Academy members) "can only vote on what they’ve seen," Ms Berry says, adding, “I’m supportive of them [the Creatives of Colour protests]. They feel that the industry needs to take notice. They want more opportunity. We want the same.”
This comes after recent attempts by the likes of elder statesman actor/producer Lenny Henry leading the charge to diversify UK film and TV.
It was just last year when I talked about what I called the "Lenny Henry Effect" following his very public, and still ongoing diversity push across the pond, focusing his attention on the opportunities for black and other so-called "minority" groups in the UK TV and film industry today.
First, Sky (the UK and Ireland’s leading home entertainment and communications company) announced that the company would be stretching new targets to improve the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people across its entertainment channels. The targets were designed to ensure that programs on its various channels better reflect the diversity of Sky’s 11 million TV customers in Britain and Ireland. In addition, increasing its investment in original British programming, Sky said that it intends to play a leading role in making the UK television industry more accessible to talented people from all backgrounds.
By the end of 2015, Sky said it aimed to achieve the following targets for the new programs it commissioned for its entertainment channels:
– On Screen Portrayals: All brand new, non-returning shows on Sky entertainment channels will have people from BAME backgrounds in at least 20% of significant on-screen roles. This commitment covers all types of programs, including drama, comedy, entertainment and factual.
– Production: All of Sky’s original programs will have someone with a BAME background in at least one senior production role. This is aimed at providing more opportunities for people with BAME backgrounds to reach senior positions within the production community.
– Writing: 20% of writers on all shows will be from BAME backgrounds in order to promote a greater diversity of voices in Sky programs and scripts.
– Commissioning: Sky will also be offering a 12-month placement within their commissioning team as part of the Creative Diversity Network’s Commissioning Leadership Program.
Whether those targets were met by the end of 2015 as planned, aren’t public info yet. I’m sure a new report will be filed in response to that.
Also making a public statement regarding an increase in diversity was BBC Films boss Christine Langan, who took on the challenge, saying that the lack of diversity within the film industry was "increasingly on BBC Films’ agenda."
Speaking to ScreenDaily in early 2015, as BBC Films celebrated its 25th anniversary and revealed its upcoming film slate, Langan said that diversity was increasingly playing a role in the division’s commissioning strategy.
“I can ensure you we are very mindful of it [diversity] and increasingly it is on our agenda. We need to reflect modern Britain and I am engaged in that process,” said Langan, adding that, "The film community needs to create opportunities to pull people through. Commissioning has taken account of it and will continue to do so."
Even Minister for the Arts Chris Bryant called the lack of diversity within the industry "shocking," stating: "What I think is lacking in the British film industry is that sense of anger and revolution and desire to change and to make everybody see something through somebody else’s eyes."
While the politician said he didn’t believe quotas to be the answer, he called for more public funding to be directed toward improving the situation: "I do think the best way of doing it is through public investment. And some of that should be from the Lottery Fund and some of it should be making sure the BBC and Channel 4 abide by strong support for the industry."
Langan, who has been at the BBC for 8 years, said she hoped to oversee the BBC Films slate for years to come: "I love what we and I do… I’m very enthusiastic about all the projects on the slate and those that we haven’t mentioned today. I want to ensure a very bountiful future for BBC Films and British film."
She will have to do better, however, to demonstrate that diversity is indeed at the top of the BBC’s agenda. Among the 15 new projects that were announced last year, in terms of diversity, there was only a new documentary on Grace Jones from director Sophie Fiennes.
When asked by ScreenDaily about the announced slate being short on diverse content, as well as producers, writers and directors from so-called *ethnic minority* backgrounds, Langan explained: "Film development takes a while, so many of these began their process years ago. It’s something that is changing as we speak."
Although, I should note that, not long after the above interview Langan gave to ScreenDaily, the BBC did order a drama series from Steve McQueen that follows a black community in London, from 1968 to 2014.
Also, worth noting, former BBC chief creative officer Pat Younge and former Channel 4 executives Lucy Pilkington and Narinder Minhas would later announce that they had teamed up to launch London-based independent production company, Sugar Films, which will develop film and TV content with an emphasis on diversity.
Just as we’re all watching to see how American film and TV production companies incorporate diversity into their agendas, our comrades in the UK (and around the world, especially where racial hierarchies exist) are doing exactly the same thing.
Below, watch Leon Herbert, founder of Creatives of Colour Network, speak out about the lack of diversity, opportunity and inclusion within the UK film and TV industry, ahead of the Creatives of Colour Network’s planned peacefully protest at the BAFTAs tomorrow night, using the hashtag #BAFTABLACKOUT.