Last year, our Adjusting the Colour Balance Report showed that when it comes to BAME representation in UK TV, there simply isn’t enough progress being made. But what does that feel like day to day, when on the hunt for your next job?
Below, an experienced BAME director writes for Directors UK about the culture of box-ticking they found within the industry, and the effect that it can have when looking for work.
When a director finds out they have a meeting for a potential job, there’s a check list of things we all go through to get ourselves in the mode — from researching visual references to casting ideas and the like.
As a BAME director with some miles under my belt, it’s my hope that I’m in the room because my work speaks for itself and because my skills are wanted on that series, and not because I’m going to conveniently tick a box for the production. When that happens, you quickly see that not all boxes are equal.
“There is a different quality of meeting if you’re just ticking the ‘we met some BAME directors’ box.”
There is a different quality of meeting if you’re just ticking the ‘we met some BAME directors’ box. These meetings can be spotted from a distance: sometimes by not being sent a script to pitch for, or the brevity of the meeting itself, and sometimes by the fact that they haven’t actually watched your reel. This is when I realise that the person I’m meeting has no idea of the level of talent sat in front of them. They just see an ethnic box to be ticked. That’s one of the more disheartening types of meeting I’ve found myself in.
Alternatively, I might be in a meeting to tick the ‘hiring a BAME Director’ box. So, there is an actual job on offer, as the production is ‘making an effort’ to address diversity issues. I’m still confident my work should speak for itself, but once in the meeting, there is always a phase of questioning in which I have to qualify my skills: yes, I plan/shot-list my shooting day or storyboard big set pieces. Yes, I direct the camera and don’t leave it for the DoP to do…I could go on. It’s in this phase of the chat that I tend to hear certain alarm bells in the language being used, when a producer or exec starts to talk about “taking a risk” or “a punt” on me.
“When you know you’re already the minority amongst your peers, being referred to as a risk is just another obstacle.”
What this means is that they’re already prepared for the possibility of me failing. Nothing about my career suggests that I’m a risk, and yet they’re not seeing hiring me as an opportunity to work with someone really talented. Language is a powerful tool, and when you know you’re already in the minority amongst your peers, being referred to as a risk is just another obstacle.
All things going well, I might find myself beyond the hard pitch phase of the meeting and into the friendly chat phase — the phase we all want to get to. I’ll sit there all smiles as I’m told there’s also a custom drama on their slate, ‘but obviously this particular urban project would be more suited to my skillset...’ This is where I’m treading on eggshells. I want to convey that being a person of colour doesn’t prevent me from directing a predominately white cast, in britches and corsets — but calling your potential boss out for their casual racism isn’t career-building.
“The ‘hiring a BAME Director’ box is the box that won’t be ticked twice.”
You recall me saying that all boxes are not created equal? Well, the ‘hiring a BAME Director’ box is the box that won’t be ticked twice. When a production has ‘made the effort’ and got their diverse booking, they’ve done their bit. The door is now closed and they won’t entertain having multiple BAME directors in the same series. There is no drive to surpass ‘the quota’.
What’s sad is this is a mostly positive depiction of what’s going on in the industry. For many the BAME ship has sailed. But actions will always speak louder than words: hire BAME directors. There’s more than enough talent out there. I could genuinely suggest an all BAME-directed series, without it even being a political statement — it would just be a talented and diverse vision.
I hope that one day the industry will do so much better, and not rest on the on excuse that’s there aren’t enough BAME crew out there. Saying it doesn’t make it true. See us for the positive drive and creative excellence our work displays — because we didn’t get here by accident. Nothing was handed to us. And if you really do have to put us in a box, at least give us the creative freedom and the tools to blow that box apart.