The British Film Institute (BFI) is addressing claims of racism and diversity double standards.
A spokesperson for the U.K.-based production organization allegedly admitted to Faisal A Qureshi (“Leaving Neverland,” “Four Lions”) last year that the institute is “systemically racist” while apologizing for how the filmmaker’s discrimination complaint was handled.
During a private meeting, the Head of Inclusion at BFI, Melanie Hoyes, allegedly told Qureshi that fellow filmmakers of color had “traumatic experiences” with the BFI and compared the institute to the ill-fated Titanic, according to Deadline.
Originally, Qureshi allegedly sought out a formal apology from the BFI more than two years ago after filing an official complaint over a funding meeting with a BFI Network representative in March 2019. Qureshi alleged that the former BFI employee informed him he was ineligible for funding due to his hiatus from directing and cited how Qureshi was “very forthright” about race on social media.
Per Deadline, a senior BFI manager emailed colleagues in April 2022 to state that Qureshi’s claims that he experienced “racially insensitive behavior” remained unsubstantiated, but believed that the filmmaker “likely did receive blunt general feedback.”
By July 2022, Qureshi landed a Zoom meeting with Hoyes to hopefully resolve the complaint. Hoyes allegedly told Qureshi that she knew BFI is a “systemically racist” organization and apologized for his experience.
“It felt like I was complaining about a bad meal, not about something that had significantly impacted my career,” Qureshi said. His case remains unresolved.
The organization was slammed with 11 funding complaints between 2019 and 2022, four of which concerned racial discrimination.
The BFI hired an external consultancy to review its standard complaints handling processes in late 2022, and the institute is now overhauling its procedures, per Deadline, as well as undertaking anti-racism training to address unconscious biases.
BFI Chief Executive Ben Roberts confirmed that the institute is conducting “challenging and thought-provoking” efforts to curb discrimination. “Becoming a truly anti-racist organisation is incredibly important to us,” Roberts said in a statement shared with IndieWire. “As a public funder that is open to all, one of our greatest challenges is managing the inevitably high level of unsuccessful applications. Failing to secure funding for a project can leave applicants feeling that we are not a place for them, so our job is to make sure that filmmakers stay motivated to apply with future projects, and that we handle challenge and complaint well. We realise that we don’t have a perfect system and we are working hard to make it more user-friendly.”
The BFI noted that 35 percent of the productions it has supported over the past 12 months hail from ethnically diverse writers, directors, and producers.
“We’ve seen real progress in the diversity of storytelling supported through the BFI Film Fund,” Roberts said. “As a public funder and the industry’s lead body, the BFI is rightly held to the highest standards. The work we do in building a more diverse and inclusive organization, and continuing to improve representation across the screen sectors, is at the heart of our 10-year strategy Screen Culture 2033. Becoming a truly anti-racist organization is incredibly important to us and I’m proud of how seriously our teams take this work.”