A group of 700 Black, Asian, and minority ethnic TV workers have written to UK networks and streamers, including Netflix, the BBC and Sky, and the government demanding action on racial equality.
The letter, which Deadline has made available to read in full here, is the work of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic TV Task Force, which has swelled to hundreds of members after being established shortly after the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
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Jacqueline Baker, one of the organizers of the letter, told Deadline that the group has held detailed discussions about life in the industry and discovered many shared experiences. “We really wanted to make a change, have an impact, and speak for the people who shared their experiences,” she said.
The four-page letter, delivered at midday today, added: “For many years we have stayed silent, due to fear of being blacklisted or totally dismissed. But in the current climate we feel emboldened to say something and this time we want to be heard.”
It details a plethora of issues experienced by ethnic minorities working in the TV industry. This includes “casual (and sometimes blatant) racism,” including black women being labeled as “angry” while their white counterparts are described as “passionate.” It said unacceptable behavior is “brushed under a rug” because of TV’s freelance model.
The letter talks about black talent being seen by commissioners as a “risk,” despite the success of diverse shows like Goodness Gracious Me and Luther. And when diverse talent is given a break, shows are “produced by an exclusively white
editorial team who often have no clue of how to get the best out of that talent.”
It added: “Scripted TV is even worse, plagued with stereotypes written by all white writers rooms and production teams. As a result of this, many programmes are culturally insensitive, inaccurate or veer towards insensitive portrayals of their diverse cast.”
Hair and makeup departments are often ill-equipped to handle the “hair type and skin colour” of BAME performers, it added, and there is “tokenism” in production teams. It said BAME producers are “shoved into a box” and expected to be the voice for diversity. “We want to be hired for our skills and talent, not just for our access to various communities,” the letter said.
Finally, it talked of an “impenetrable glass ceiling at mid-level” stopping BAME individuals from progressing into more senior industry roles. It said: “People want to keep you there because, ‘you’re a really good AP’ but your less experienced white counterparts are being promoted left, right and centre.”
The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic TV Task Force demanded a raft of changes, including:
- Boosting the number of BAME commissioners and storytellers by 2022. It said 25% of commissioners should be from diverse backgrounds across all genres, while 20% of a show’s workforce should be made up of BAME producers.
- Producers and broadcasters formally advertising jobs to stamp out nepotism that “actively works against any efforts to improve diversity in the workplace.”
- Establishing an independent body to tackle workplace grievances.
- Better monitoring of progress on diversity, and mentoring schemes to help promote mid-level producers, as well as a commissioning training scheme.
The letter was addressed to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, Ofcom, Pact, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, STV, Sky, UKTV, Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. Among its signatories is Pat Younge, an industry veteran and the former chief creative officer of TV production at BBC Studios.