Barriers at every level: Sideman addresses the lack of opportunities for underrepresented groups in the screen industries

Comedian and presenter, David Whitely, more commonly known as Sideman, resigned from BBC Radio 1Xtra in August 2020 over the use of a racial slur in a BBC News report. The slur featured in a report broadcast by Points West and the BBC News Channel about a racially aggravated attack in Bristol.

After more than 18,000 complaints, the BBC initially defended its decision to broadcast the language but accepted it caused offence. However, following Sideman’s resignation, the BBC’s director general Tony Hall apologised. “Every organisation should be able to acknowledge when it has made a mistake. We made one here,” Hall said in an email to BBC staff.

Sideman discusses the barriers he’s faced in his career, highlighting issues relating to his accent and the colour of his skin. Both have impacted roles he’s been picked for and how he is viewed within the industry, though the issues extend far beyond his own experience as he observes that he is often the only Black person on set. It’s not only on screen or on air where the problems lie. He condemns the lack of representation behind the scenes too in writing, production and other areas. This sends a dangerous message that you have to work twice as hard to get half as far if your face doesn’t fit with industry stereotypes.

There’s issues in governance as well. Ofcom’s all-White Board underlines the racial disparity in the screen industries and emphasises the need for members across underrepresented groups to ensure the experiences of their communities are considered in industry rulings and policy and decision making. Despite over 18,000 complaints in response to the BBC’s use of a racial slur that led to his resignation, Sideman feels that the corporation was forced into action only when the issue gained traction on social media.

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