The lack of diversity found across TV production in the UK is a widely known fact and long-standing problem. Recently the diversity agenda has been back in the spotlight, with the slow, limited progress made in the noughties effectively being reversed in the last few years. Barely a week goes by without a headline about the industry’s lack of diversity on both sides of the camera.
In 2014 we began our own research to find out just how many BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) directors are working in UK television production and what their levels of employment look like. Many BAME directors reported that, in comparison to their white peers, their careers often took significantly longer to progress and that access to employment opportunities were far more limited. Directors UK’s report UK Television: Adjusting the Colour Balance has confirmed that the scale and depth of the barriers facing BAME directors is even more acute than the industry at large.
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The number of BAME directors working in UK film and television is so critically low that only urgent and sustained action can tackle the problem. The challenge uncovered by our research is two-fold:
Significant levels of under-employment
Only 1.5% of all the programmes in our sample were made by BAME directors.
Acute levels of under-representation
BAME directors are critically under-represented in UK television, with BAME directors making up just 3.5% of the directing community. This compares to the 14% of the general population that come from BAME backgrounds.
Our campaign represents targeted action based on our detailed analysis, BAME directors provide a focal point for action and will ensure that the debate moves beyond hand-wringing and into measureable and lasting outcomes for directors’ direct experience working in UK television production, and relevant external research sources. The campaign is not about continuing the already lengthy debate around television’s lack of diversity, but rather taking action and pushing for measurable and lasting outcomes for directors.
Directors UK’s BAME Directors campaign is focused on pushing through the series of practical recommendations made in our report. Our campaign will pursue these recommendations so that lasting change can be seen, measured and above all experienced by BAME directors working within the television industry. These recommendations include:
- Setting clear diversity targets
- Improving transparency of recruitment and monitoring of freelancers
- Ensuring opportunities for entry, training and career progression
- Creating more visibility for BAME directors and creating role models for aspiring directing talent
Directors UK will work with broadcasters, production companies, agents and training providers to bring about a significant increase in the number of television programmes being made by BAME directors across all genres. More widely the campaign will need to go out to education and training providers, schools and communities to foster the perception that a career as a television director is accessible and sustainable for those who come from a BAME background.
The issue of diversity and under-representation is receiving more scrutiny than ever before. Our campaign is using this fact to highlight the commitments made, develop practical solutions, and call inaction to account. Our campaign has gathered information about contacts/networks, interviews and pitching experiences from over the last 6-12 months, to see if there has been any shift in behaviour and/or outcomes as diversity issues have begun to receive more attention. However, the overall impression from our members seems to be that while more conversations are being had - and “ears are open” - this has yet to translate into more opportunities or work.
Our statistical research has been based on a large sample of the most popular and significant programmes made in-house at the BBC and ITV, and by the top nine consolidated independent productioncompanies: All3Media, Endemol, Shine, Fremantle, Zodiak, NBCU, Shed, Tinopolis and Boom.
We analysed over 55,000 individual episodes across 546 programme titles, looking at programmes broadcast up to the end of 2013 (details of our methodology and the programmes included in the sample are available in the full report).
Our key finding was that only 1.5% of the episodes included in our sample were made by BAME directors. We also found that the proportion of television made by BAME directors in 2013 (1.29%) had dropped by over 20% in comparison with pre-2011 programmes (1.67%). This represents a considerable decrease to an already nominal amount of television being made by BAME directors.
Our research has provided the BAME Directors campaign with a clear set of ‘asks’, developed using robust quantitative and qualitative analysis, presenting the numbers and narrative so we can identify just what needs to change, why, and most importantly how.
Directors UK welcomes commitments made in Channel 4’s 360 Degree Diversity Charter, requiring that the independent production companies they work with will help to deliver improved diversity both in front of and behind the camera, as well as making the channel's own commissioning executives responsible for achieving diversity goals.
Directors UK has been actively campaigning to improve the representation of women and BAME directors in UK television production and commends Channel 4 for tackling this problem in an innovative way.
As part of the Charter initiatives announced, there is confirmation that Directors UK will work alongside Channel 4 in improving opportunities for drama directors on their productions, including setting up a mentoring scheme.
Menhaj Huda, Chair of the Directors UK Diversity Committee, had this to say:
“It is vitally important for broadcasters such as Channel 4 to make improving diversity central to their commissioning process. It is only through real commitment, at all levels, that change can happen. Leading from the top and bringing accountability to their commissioning teams and their indie suppliers is key. We look forward to working with the production companies and Channel 4 to ensuring this diversity ambition actually becomes reality”.
Many industry organisations are beginning to take action to address the under-representation of BAME talent both on and off-screen, but our campaign calls for the industry to include our more comprehensive recommendations as part of their strategic commitments.