Updated: Jun 26, 2020
“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” — Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google
As each week of 2020 unfolds, it feels like we are reaching new levels of social injustice, tragedy and chaos.
A few weeks since the murder of George Floyd -- and make no mistake about it, it was murder -- protests have taken to the streets, statues have been toppled by locals, new laws and bills have been brought forward.
But notably, in the creative industry, there have been a number of declarations, promises and schemes launched by many broadcasting houses and production companies that seek to develop further opportunities for the BAME community.
Where Do We Start?
It shouldn’t have to take a global outcry towards the worldwide systemic racism for these companies and businesses to ‘offer opportunities’ to those in our society who are less ‘seen’ in the creative world.
In another life, if I was to enter the world of media, film and TV as someone from the BAME community, then I want to go through the same damn door as everyone else; not one that was made specially for me, like some side entrance, built out of some sense of self-conscious worry regarding outward perception and social accountability.
Most people, who have been trying to scale the impenetrable fortress walls of the creative kingdom, want access based on fairness, through their own merit, their skills, their abilities and unique voices that they have to offer.
But the reality is this: The British TV, film and media industry is predominantly white and middle-class.
The Middle-Class World of Media
You’re a creative who has come from a disadvantage background…
You finally get your foot in the door, you don’t know how you did but you broke every bone from the ankle down by doing it and you’re fighting to keep it there to prevent said door from closing shut and locking you out all over again.
You get to work and do everything you can to earn your stripes, because that’s the mantra, the motto, the ‘right words’ you heard growing up: ‘Always be the hardest-working person in the room, show them what you’re made of, earn your way up the chain!’
Day-by-day a sobering and heart-breaking reality sets in.
You’re a rare breed of animal navigating the harsh landscapes of this industry, amongst plummy accents, nepotism, caffeine-fuelled tantrums, shortness of patience and an abundance of bad manners. Bullying is rife and you choose your words carefully to avoid angering the wrong people at the right time, if you’re smart about it, you appeal to their egos and narcissistic traits.
An obvious collection of your new peers have found their roles through affluence, connections and blagging.
They hear how you talk and make fun of your ‘rough’ accent, they immediately pigeonhole you as someone to be talked down to and is expected to handle the jobs that no one else particularly wants to do; you’re a ‘minion’ a ‘tea bitch’.
Can you hear the chip on my shoulder rattling…?
All I’m doing is giving testimony to my experience, it may be recalled through the lens of my own subconscious bias and prejudice, but I often see nodding heads whenever I share my frustrations with others who had to climb the greasy pole to get where they are today, as I have.
Before I Go Any Further…
I fully acknowledge that there are those may be privately educated, lucked their way on set or got their first job via a friendly or family connection that work harder than anyone else around them.
The right people are successful for a reason and are often prosperous due to a consistent and righteous work ethic that serves others as well as themselves.
But the British industry in particular has created its own feedback loop, a social cycle that can’t decide if it ought to be broken in the name of social justice and good PR or not risk the gamble for the tried and tested formulas and the binary process of selecting new candidates and recruits for a million mile per-hour workflow that needs guaranteed results and risk-free development.
Are We Seeing Just Another PR Stunt…?
‘Equal opportunity’ seems to be there on the surface, but all in the name of box-ticking as opposed to genuine equality - a gesture that seems to belittle than it empowers, a pat on the back and a notion of charity, which ultimately sidesteps an actual political and systematic solution.
A PR stunt that is motivated by the pursuit of a positive representation in lieu of simply doing the right thing and putting a permanent and self-aware process in place.
Regardless, often people from the BAME community who work their way towards a job in the creative world can immediately be categorised - unwillingly on their part - as an ambassador for their race and ethnicity.
Whilst their white co-workers think they’re doing the right thing by consulting someone from a background that is different to theirs, when working on a project that is telling a story outside of a white person’s understanding, it’s ultimately just a lazy approach to not learning themselves. All they’re doing is relying on others to correct them just to avoid the headache of bad press should their own published work offend anyone upon release - devoid of any cultural and racial curiosity.
What’s the Solution?
The easiest answer: Just hire talented people from all walks of life. Stop taking the easy option: ‘This person has three credits and comes from this university/worked at this company - hire them.’ And think more outside the box.
And another major problem: money.
To build a career in the creative industry - whether that’s working in advertising, TV, film or any media outlet - you’re taking on a huge risk where work is not often guaranteed and any jobs that come your way may fall through faster than you may have acquired them.
Or, maybe you need to build a portfolio, a showreel - well, do you have a camera...? You can get one of those for a few grand, if you get a lens or two, a flashcard, a battery and all the other bits and pieces that are sold separately...
Plus, there are large gaps between jobs and a lot of ‘unpaid’ positions seem to be a necessary path to build a portfolio or resume.
If you don’t have any means of finance, which are often from your family, you can’t stick your neck out a little further and gamble on your livelihood to make headway with your career as a creative.
And the unpaid opportunities are a massive barrier for people who can’t afford to take on unpaid work, and so they stick with the jobs that get them nowhere, because the real world doesn’t care about their dreams when bills and rent need paying.
The Talent is Out There!
This blog barely scratches the surface on this issue, there are many great articles, podcasts and interviews out there, which tell the stories of people from BAME communities who have struggled to find work in the creative industry and also faced a lot racism in the workplace - unconscious or otherwise - please seek them out.
Paper Sky Films may be a small production company, but we know what it feels like to be ignored by the heavy-hitters - it’s what created this company in the first place; ‘the other production companies won’t hire us, so we’ll just create our own.’ But what we’ve experienced as white individuals, what success we have found is likely owed in large part to how we look and sound.
At the start of 2020, we were exploring options that seek to involve young people from backgrounds that may not afford them opportunities in the creative world that they’ll struggle to acquire elsewhere. This includes working with rehabilitated criminals, of all races, in the Manchester area and teach them filmmaking and visual storytelling skills.
There are discussions of creating a charity someday that purely focuses on nurturing raw talent that don’t come a lifestyle of affluence and privilege (if you’re a creative reading this, do get in touch, we’ll need all the help we can get), but we’ll need to get back on our feet first as a production company after the hardships we’ve endured during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Make a Damn Effort, People!
If you’ve read this far, thank you - this may read more as a rant than an actual blog but I genuinely feel anger towards this industry, which I love to my core and yet is in its own way by remaining planted in its tried-and-true comfort zones, which has groomed a system of unconscious bias, snobbery and racism, all of which it seems to be unaware of.
Paper Sky Films has and always will support #BlackLivesMatter and will always do what it can to tell stories that raise awareness for injustice, oppression and campaigns for positive change. It will also do what it can to include, hire and collaborate with various voices, identities and talents from all walks of life.
It all makes a greater recipe anyway with the projects that you’re working on and most of all it’s giving the world the gift of a talent that deserves its own share of the stage, in front and behind the camera.
And not just because it’s ‘relevant’ and not just because ‘it’s good PR.’
But because it’s how it should be!