Industry Voices: Home Truths about Diversity and Inclusion

These are extraordinary times for the screen sectors and those who work within them. Coronavirus has created a crisis in all aspects of our industry, and the implications and repercussions of the pandemic are unprecedented. Yet, before the virus hit, a crisis in the cultural industries was already present, one arguably entrenched and seemingly without a vaccine: a crisis of equality, diversity and inclusion. As recent research by the Policy and Evidence Centre shows, the impacts of Coronavirus on diversity in particular, have transformed a crisis situation into a full-blown emergency. 

In August 2020, David Olusoga, writer, broadcaster, filmmaker and Professor of British History made a powerful plea in his MacTaggart lecture, calling for structural Change in the UK TV industry. Focusing on the need for inclusion, Olusoga said:

I’m going to talk about my own experiences and those of other Black people I’ve known in my years in TV. I’m going to speak from my perspective, that of a Black person, but I’m well aware that these issues affect people from other minority backgrounds and that race, class, gender, sexuality and disability all intersect.

Olusoga’s focus on personal experience and intersectionality are hugely important in understanding issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. In his lecture, Olusoga talked about loss: generations of talent lost to the battlegrounds of inequality, silenced by exclusion or exhausted through fighting to contribute and be valued equally. Diversity charters, inclusive frameworks and equal opportunities initiatives have been introduced along with the Creative Diversity Network’s Project Diamond in recent years, and yet loss continues. These schemes have, overall, failed to create significant change. How can we understand this?

Collaborating with Candour Productions, SIGN researched, designed and co-created a series of powerful testimony films, working with brilliant contributors from the screen industries who agreed to share their lived-experience on camera. The purpose was to provide a platform from which the voices and stories of those who have encountered barriers and discrimination due to structural inequalities connected to characteristics including race, ethnicity, gender, social class and disability, could speak. In addition, we were also interested in the ways in which regional locations and perceptions operated as obstacles in shaping their working lives and opportunities. The stories our contributors tell are powerful and intersectional, and need to be heard. 

At SIGN we recognise and value the expertise of those with lived experience in British television, film and games, and this formed our starting point for our Industry Voices campaign. Alongside this, we listened to important networks such as the Coalition for Change, The B Inclusive Taskforce, UKIE (and many more), studied existing research and designed new research into a range of equality, diversity and inclusion issues, and drew on our crucial sector networks.

In our twelve Industry Voices films, our contributors speak candidly about their backgrounds, about barriers to inclusion, about discrimination due to personal characteristics or circumstances, and about their intersectional lives in the screen industries.

Like Olusoga, our contributors shared their stories with formidable honesty. They noted how, when and why they had entered the industry, and discussed their journeys within roles including those of television commissioning editor, games and television screenwriter, documentary producer, researcher, film director, broadcast journalist and diversity scheme manager. In personal terms, they talked of both their love for their work, and the ways in which the screen industries urgently need to change. 

The interviews with each contributor were research-led, and we took time and care to allow these experts to speak about what mattered to them. Our contributors talked through how they felt, what they believed needed to change, and how that change might come about. As many noted, change could happen tomorrow.

The publication of Access All Areas (Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder) this month, provides a manifesto for diversity for TV and beyond. Many of the suggestions made in the book regarding hard leadership decisions, not blaming the victims of discrimination, changing the qualities on which people are judged as worthy of work, training for ALL, and speaking truth to power, are lived and discussed by our contributors.  

Through the creation of our Industry Voices film series, our contributors show the human impact of inequality, and bring the importance of intersectional understandings of their working and personal lives to surface. 

We want the films and stories shared to operate beyond advocacy, and form part of a broader campaign for structural change. SIGN will announce our next steps on this critical journey over the coming weeks.

Through collective voices, we can amplify key narratives and real lives. 

These people matter. Their voices matter.

Watch the full series.

Dr Beth Johnson (Diversity and Inclusion lead for SIGN)