Lenny Henry last night called for “systemic change” across the television industry and dedicated funding for more diverse stories and opportunities for BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) individuals, especially London's wealth of sidelined talent.
Henry cited research showing that 98.5% of TV directors working now are white and said: “The television industry is just not working for black, Asian and minority ethnics, and when we discuss an industry not working we’re talking about a market failure.”
Henry was backed by the likes of actor and director Adrian Lester, and Kidulthood director Menhaj Huda. The latter said he’d had to leave London despite making breakthrough films early in his career to find work on soaps and was now looking to go to America.
Huda — whose directing credits also include Coronation Street and Emmerdale — highlighted research he had done with Directors UK which found that only 1.5% of 50,000 episodes of TV titles made in the UK between 2011 and 2013 were directed by BAME individuals (with the picture in the last 18 months looking worse not better).
While Henry did applaud new initiatives brought in by broadcasters he said: “Redressing the imbalance that sees BAME individuals excluded from almost every executive level requires a bit more than tweaks and training. We’re looking for a paradigm shift in attitude funding and commitment.”
Henry specifically suggested ring-fencing money as a solution — as is already the case with regional content, current affairs and children’s TV — to guarantee a certain amount of diversity-oriented programming each year. And he called on the regulators — Ofcom, the BBC Trust and the Ministry for Culture, Media and Sport — to create new rules for the dedicated funds and set criteria and rules so they could be introduced slowly and successfully. “Just ring-fence money and let the programmes and programme-makers speak for themselves then the cream is far more likely to rise to the top.”
Henry said he hoped introducing these measures would help create a new mainstream where series like London-set Luther were the norm rather than one-offs. He commented: “Idris Elba didn’t need diversity training, he just needed a break.”