Anti-Racism in the Film and TV Industry: a Perspective from The Film and TV Charity

Left to right: Sasha Salmon, Dr Clive Nwonka, Prof. Sarita Malik, Alex Pumfrey, Juliet Gilkes-Romero, Joseph Adesunloye

Left to right: Sasha Salmon, Dr Clive Nwonka, Prof. Sarita Malik, Alex Pumfrey; and Film and TV Charity Trustees Juliet Gilkes-Romero and Joseph Adesunloye

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the unequal impacts of the pandemic we heard the clear testimony of people of colour working in film and television – our beneficiaries – living with both interpersonal and structural racism in our industry. We heard how this was impacting not only their career progression but their wellbeing and their mental health. For some it ultimately affected whether or not they could stay within the industry.

Many of the industry’s employers are pursuing reinvigorated diversity and inclusion strategies in response to the events of the last 18 months. We know from our recent conversations how desperately keen many are to deliver real progress and meaningful actions. We felt that a specific focus on racism, honestly recognising it as an entrenched structural and cultural dynamic of the industry, could complement and add to organisation-based DEI work, by unlocking for those who do not experience racism a deeper understanding of what racism in the industry is and how it operates.

Our ultimate intention was to catalyse industry-led action. To that end we commissioned Sasha Salmon, a senior public policy advisor with expertise in anti-racism and equality, to review both the charity itself and to prepare a document on experiences of racism in the industry. She in turn commissioned Dr Clive Nwonka and Prof Sarita Malik to survey and analyse the major racial diversity initiatives in the industry over the last two decades.

Today we share both pieces of work with the industry and are inviting industry leaders to come together and participate in a series of industry roundtables with the ambition of agreeing a new Anti-Racism Action Platform for UK Film and TV by Summer 2022. Taking its inspiration from racial equality charters in other industries we believe this should embody a long-term commitment, and progress should be subject to annual independent evaluation.

In parallel, the Charity continues its own Anti-Racism Action Plan, and in early 2022 will be launching its Impact Partnerships Programme which will funnel £1 million of investment over a period of three years into organisations and community groups led by people of colour, for people of colour. The Impact Partnership Programme responds to Salmon’s observation that for anti-racist interventions to be effective they should be adequately funded, long-term, and foreground the expertise of colleagues of colour. It will support the partner organisations to ensure their own sustainability while leading on innovative anti-racist projects that seek to make interventions at a structural level.


A summary of findings from Salmon’s and Nwonka & Malik’s work

Salmon’s Think Piece on Anti-Racism in the Film and TV Industry presents an in-depth thematic exploration of experiences of racism amongst 55 people of colour from the industry. She notes that there was wide consensus that racism in the industry was rife and that participants were most keen to speak about structural racism but found a striking disconnect between anti-racism ‘action’ and the lived experience of people of colour”. It is essential reading for anyone in the industry who does not have personal experience of racism, but particularly for all those in positions of financial and creative power.

The conversations held with Salmon were hard and triggering for many. While we share Salmon’s hope that presenting these experiences can provide validation for our colleagues of colour, it may also resurface the trauma of racism experienced in the industry. With the release of this work we are providing dedicated support for people of colour working in the industry and have ensured that we are able to provide counsellors with expertise in racism and lived experience of issues affecting people of colour. In the coming months we will be expanding our counsellor base to provide an even more nuanced service. We are also in the process of recruiting a Bullying and Racism advisor, able to meet the needs of those with specific experience of racialised bullying and harassment.

Nwonka & Malik’s report on Racial Diversity Initiatives in UK Film and TV reviews the principal policies, schemes and initiatives of the past 20 years, noting that frameworks of ‘diversity’ have tended to be how the UK’s film and TV industry has both constructed and managed racial difference. However, they conclude that in practice, the apparatus of ‘diversity’ has not successfully tackled structural inequalities” and – crucially – that“’diversity’ as an industrial endeavour has remained distanced from the structural racism that conditions the industrial experience of so many within the industry”. We interpret this to mean that traditional concepts of ‘diversity’ have not engaged with structural racism (the underlying disease) but instead have sought only to address racial underrepresentation (the visible symptoms).


Six themes for further exploration with the industry

At the Film and TV Charity we now want to leverage the important lessons that are contained in both publications, and support the process of translating them into concrete, industry-led action. It is our hope that as an independent organisation we can help convene and catalyse action – but we are clear that the action must be owned by the industry itself, and always centrally informed by the perspectives of colleagues of colour.

We identify six themes that run across Salmon’s and Nwonka & Malik’s work, around which are now seeking to mobilise industry action. We share these as stimulus for further debate, development, and action planning:

  1. Embed anti-racism practice and introduce accountability. Anti-racism is by definition an active practice, which requires actionable and measurable plans. These cannot be confined to HR or D&I departments but need to run down the middle of organisations, with leaders accountable for anti-racism action. Salmon specifically recommends ring-fenced funding as a meaningful action (as per the Charity’s new commitment to ring-fence 30% of its future grants for people of colour, and 15% for disabled people).
  2. Collaborate for progress. While there is already an amount of cross-industry work on these issues, we perceive there to be greater opportunity – and willingness – to learn and share between organisations. Racism is an industry-wide issue, and will require industry-wide action. It is in the interests of all to share lessons that can build cumulative evidence of what works, and what doesn’t, with greater honesty and transparency. Both Salmon and Nwonka & Malik also call for greater collaboration between the industry and individuals with lived experience, advocates, community groups and researchers.
  3. Develop person-centred data. Both pieces of work point to areas for development in the use of data to support anti-racism. Salmon makes a powerful case for the value of lived experience data in policy making, and it is clear that wellbeing and mental health data can illuminate the effects of racism. Individualised (anonymised) longitudinal data might show where structural barriers are met in individuals’ careers. And Salmon’s work encourages the industry to recognise intersectionality and the ‘diversity within diversity’, particularly where multiple characteristics may present heightened barriers. As one interviewee shared it’s like people don’t understand that we can be both Black and a women, queer or non-binary, working class, and an immigrant”.
  4. Evaluate for impact. The industry should commit to robust, independent evaluation of anti-racism and diversity initiatives, at least annually, and publicly-funded organisations in particular should make this analysis open for public scrutiny, as per the recommendations from Nwonka & Malik. Their history of diversity initiatives makes clear that an ‘action research’ approach to evaluating initiatives – so that lessons can be understood and ploughed back into the next cycle -has been sorely lacking and must be addressed in order to support progress, effective collaboration, and accountability.
  5. Support people of colour in the industry. As an industry we must offer tailored support options which recognise racialised experiences (for example, specific access to counsellors with lived experience or expertise in racism). Salmon notes that there are very few safe spaces in which people of colour can talk about their experiences of racism (and those which exist are community-led). The Film and TV Charity exists to support people working in the industry, and we want to see where we can do more, or better, for our beneficiaries of colour. Salmon also references Marcus Ryder’s proposal, developed for Bectu, for a new reporting body for racism, and the Charity supports further exploration of this, including how it might align with the Time’s Up proposal for a new industry-wide reporting function.
  6. Understand racism and anti-racism. Dismantling structural racism will not be possible without a deeper understanding of what it is and how it operates within our industry. And without addressing structural racism we will not achieve the diversification of the industry that is crucial to its creative and commercial success. To start, Nwonka & Malik call for the industry to explicitly recognise the differences between ‘diversity’ and anti-racism. Salmon’s think piece is an important contribution towards the objective of understanding racism in our industry, but also provides inspiration for the further work that is necessary, and every organisation must understand how structural racism manifests within its structures, processes and cultures.

Closing words

As Salmon has made clear in her work, we all have something to gain from anti-racism action. As one of her interviewees put it:

I don’t get why White people are not more upset that they have been lied to and not truly heard our stories they are currently missing out on. We have still grown up enjoying their stories. I am a Black woman and I love Sex and the City. I am Miranda. A UK version of Girlfriends won’t dismantle or upheave whiteness in the UK. It’s limiting your entertainment and your ability to relate to others. People should be more angry about that.

Discover more

Read Sasha Salmon's Think Piece on Anti-Racism

Presenting an in-depth thematic exploration of experiences of racism amongst 55 people of colour from the industry

Read here

Read Dr Clive Nwonka and Prof Sarita Malik's Report

Review and Analysis of the major racial diversity initiatives, schemes and principal policies of the past 20 years

Read more