By Desiree Ibekwe

Monday 31st July 2020

Optimism among execs grows – tempered by pigeonholing, glass ceilings and suitability of schemes

The role of regulation and schemes, structuring of co-productions and pigeonholing have been identified as key issues for British broadcasting diversity, as optimism around lasting positive change grows among several indies.

In the wake of the recent wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, broadcasters and producers have been soul-searching as to their roles in creating an industry more reflective of modern Britain, prompting Broadcast to contact several diverse-led indies for reflection.

One key area of debate centred on the success of schemes and initiatives aimed at increasing the number of diverse-led companies landing commissions from broadcasters.

Douglas Road managing director Angela Ferreira said “anything that brings production companies closer to attaining that difficult 10-part, 9pm series commission” is a positive step.

She added Channel 5 and the TV Collective’s BAME indie scheme has led to “encouraging” results. King of Sunshine Productions, Afro Mic Productions and Chatterbox were among the indies to land commissions through the scheme, which paired them with C5 commissioners.

Nisha Parti, founder of drama indie Parti Productions, said recent schemes superseded those of the past because they are ensuring diverse-led companies are “being heard”.

Gold Wala managing director Faraz Osman added the dual factors of Covid-19 and BLM has created an environment in which broadcasters are willing to do away with the status quo and experiment.

However, Osman warned the framing of schemes is integral, and suggested that focus on awarding commissions could unwittingly create a system of winners and losers.

“There is a sense that Black, Asian and minority ethnic-owned companies are being pitted against each other,” he said. “Those who aren’t selected are like the ones picked last at PE.”

Osman, a former Channel 4 and Lemonade Money exec, praised his experience with the BBC, noting the broadcaster had identified Gold Wala’s potential and brought him in to discuss work with commissioners.

Ensuring sustainable change

However, Paul Blake, founder and creative director of Maroon Productions and a veteran TV diversity campaigner, offered a cautious tone around initiatives.

He said informal industry networks remained impenetrable to many, and that navigating them as a black person is akin to “showing up to a dinner party that you aren’t invited to”.

He blasted some schemes for having a preoccupation with entry-level positions, saying this does not create proper structural change. Instead, junior black and Asian production staff often hit career glass ceilings at around assistant producer level, he added.

“If you can’t get past AP, then there are no black producer-directors and so on and so on,” said Blake. “The industry then turns around and says it doesn’t know where the talent is.”

He called for regulatory intervention to engender real and lasting change. “When it comes to the television industry, race should be treated like the nations and regions, education programmes and the news in its importance to a broadcasters’ licence.”

The term ‘diversity’ is unhelpful when setting the parameters of schemes, according to Douglas Road’s Ferreira. “When money is put aside for ‘diverse’ groups, how much will be left for Black- and Asian-owned indies or our disabled colleagues when the term is so broad,” she questioned.

Blake was equally critical of the term ‘BAME’, noting black British experience is vastly different to Asian British experience, in both TV and society, and that lumping them together is unhelpful.

Co-operating and co-production

Several indies have addressed the role established producers and super-indies can play in BAME companies’ development.

Boy with the Topknot producer Parti noted the deal her drama indie struck a development deal with Sony Pictures Television last year was indicative of existing conditions.

Parti previously had a deal with Kudos – the under the stewardship of Jane Featherstone – and said assimilating the business practices and development processes of the Banijay-owned producer had been useful.

However, Osman rejected deals should be handed out as a duty and called for what he termed “reverse co-productions” that would stop broadcasters’ current strategies of asking smaller companies to partner with more established companies to develop and produce their ideas.

Osman said broadcasters should instead ask larger companies that have secured prime time commissions to bring in those same smaller, more diverse companies.

“For example, if there was a big Saturday night entertainment show, the VTs could be produced by companies like mine,” he said.

Identity and pigeonholing

Meanwhile, several diverse indies pointed to issues with the breadth of content commissioned – noting broadcasters would often pigeonhole them as only working in the identity and cultural and racial heritage spaces.

For example, Parti said she often looks to tell stories of Asian identity because she felt “no one else was doing it very well” and was “passionate” about relating those cultural experiences, but was concerned she must follow this creative path before being able to diversify into more traditional genres.

“I don’t know if I would be taken seriously if I did that now,” she added.

Osman, meanwhile, has strategically focused on Gold Wala becoming a “diverse company making good content” rather than a “diverse company making diverse content”.

He called the balance between focusing on identity-themed programmes and traditional television “an ongoing question” for Black, Asian and minority ethnic managing directors.

“We don’t bemoan the work we do relating to identity but there is a concern that we won’t be able to grow beyond that,” he added.

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