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A senior public policy advisor on equality has called for the TV industry to undergo “humble, hard self-reflection” on how to reshape structurally to become more accountable on racism.

In a report commissioned by the Film and TV Charity, Sasha Salmon said that in contrast to other industries, “lived experience” is being overlooked in anti-racism efforts, with "strong and very mixed views as to whether these are valuable or simply performative”.

For her Think Piece on Anti-Racism in the Film and TV Industry, Salmon found a disconnect between the quantitative research in data such as Diamond and the kind of experiences of the 55 people featured in her report, who identified a lack of “safe spaces” to address racist behaviour and attitudes, outside of WhatsApp groups.

In an accompanying report, Racial Diversity Initiatives in UK Film and TV, academics Dr Clive Nwonka and Prof Sarita Malik said a lack of investment in addressing “the structural dimensions of exclusion and inequality” had hampered the various industry attempts to improve diversity over the past 20 years.

In echoes of David Olusoga’s MacTaggart speech last year, it said that a sustained focus on entry-level talent had left many older and more experienced BAME creatives adrift.

'Reactive and light-touch' efforts

Many of Salmon’s interviewees pointed to a lack of meaningful and fundamental structural change in the industry’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd. They described subsequent efforts as largely “reactive and light touch”, summed up by one as displaying an attitude of “we just hire more Black people and then we are anti-racist”.

One interviewee described the situation as “a lot of talking and no change”, summarising commissioners’ position as: “‘there is some money out here and come and get it’ but the caveat is ‘get it on my terms, not your terms’.”

Others said that well-meaning, but ultimately privileged white creatives were winning commissions for “stories they think are interesting about communities of colour without having any lived experience”.

Saying she was “struck by how normalised it is to exclude people of colour both from telling their own stories and from helping find meaningful solutions to anti-racism,” Salmon called for “radical changes” to the structures behind funding, commissioning and HR, as well as governance and leadership.

“From top to bottom, the industry will need to be truly diverse. This cannot be done in silos or without people of colour, women, disabled people, working class people, LGTBQ+ people and people from across the country, and the global industry.

“These voices need to be given space, power, and autonomy to help drive change. Those who have failed to shift the needle on representation and racism need to have some hard internal and external conversations on how they are complicit, and how they will now commit to being anti-racist.”

Recommendations

Salmon outlined eight recommendations for film and TV organisations:

  • Make a clear commitment to anti-racism underpinned by meaningful and measurable actions – and assess staff and organisational performance in correlation with this. Ringfencing 30% of spend and outputs is meaningful and representative.
  • Ensure that the anti-racism agenda is not limited to HR departments, but that all teams including creative teams, governors and executive teams have ownership of this issue and clear action plans with proportionate ringfenced funding.
  • Be publicly accountable on all work on anti-racism and redressing wider inequality.
  • Be transparent and collaborative when working with researchers to evaluate any anti-racism work.
  • Work together with other industry partners to move the needle on racism and creative diversity in the industry.
  • Work together to establish a body to support people of colour to report any discrimination, as outlined in Marcus Ryder’s review for Bectu last year.
  • Meaningfully listen to, and invests in, anti-racism projects and interventions designed and led by people of colour.
  • Centralise the lived experience of people of colour and other marginalised groups in all work – from decision-making to writers’ rooms.
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