By Fraser Ayres 21-05-2015
We are in a unique time of potential and possibility, and most importantly, receptivity within our industry to richer stories for wider audiences, with fresh creatives behind them.
It’s more important now than ever because the lack of diversity in the UK industry is arguably worse than it was – and it’s a lot more embarrassing. We’re all so inter-connected that our world hasn’t narrowed, it’s widened and the majority of our personal experiences have become more diverse, not less.
We can’t deny it, run away or pretend any longer. And neither should we. We set up TriForce Creative Network (TCN) 10 years ago because the need for more inclusion and access existed that long ago. So what has changed this time around?
Quotas are back. No matter how important and much needed a step they are, we don’t need to be mathematicians to realise that at some point we will run out of percentages to allocate. And by their very nature, they reinforce the notion of diversity rather than resolve it.
We quickly need more tangible solutions, long-lasting change and a real acknowledgement of the problems we face.
From our own experience, it is the lack of entry points with tangible outcomes to the mainstream industry that is the problem. The core issue of diversity is actually one of access. Talent exists in all areas of the industry and for the past 10 years we’ve been supporting, developing and nurturing creatives from all walks of life. They now form a network of 16,000 actors, directors, writers and producers from across the UK.
No matter how many surprise hits they achieve, audience numbers they draw or successes had by these ‘wider demographics,’ there is still a perception within the industry that they are somehow unfit for professional work – that they need more ‘training.’ Do we really think that there isn’t anybody black, lesbian, working class (fill in your under-represented demographic here) who is ready to take on the roles of commissioner or head of department, or who can write or direct primetime shows?
It is the experience of being distanced from the established routes that these creatives bring that can change our industry and how it operates for the better. Channel 4 and the like are taking steps to address the problem at its root, by diversifying their commissioners and removing the ‘unconscious bias’ that leads decision makers to recruit in their own image. The industry doesn’t need people who have been to the ’right’ universities, or who have had the resources to intern for free. Instead, we need to look for ‘predators’ who have created masterpieces on shoestrings whilst juggling a day job.
If there’s an acknowledgement that as industry leaders we may not have all the answers, then we must be open and receptive to the expertise of people and organisations that have been operating with fewer resources and opportunities and are still delivering quality work.
Having decision makers with an inclusive outlook to spot this work is one of the greatest challenges our industry faces. Understanding a wider audience’s needs and seeing the potential in scripts and projects that may be different to their own worlds is no easy task. That is why we have launched TriForce Productions with the support of Red Planet Pictures, to directly engage with broadcasters.
But why bother now? In an age of falling live viewing figures, it’s easy to blame changing audiences and multiple devices, but with figures rising in other areas, perhaps it’s much simpler.
A lot of current content doesn’t speak to a wide range of people.
We can see it in the thirst for and bingeing of quality content seen in the streaming boom, or even through people huddled in front of a tiny screen with bad resolution – if the content is good, the rest almost doesn’t matter.
Ideally we will see more than just a change in palette, and offices filled with those who look the part but went to the same schools or came through the usual routes. Hopefully, we will see a diversity of experience permeate our industry once the channels of access are opened.
What we need are decision makers with an inclusive outlook who include everybody and exclude no one. We have a duty to tell truer, richer stories, but fundamentally the economic future of our industry depends on engaging these varied audiences with content that isn’t tokenised and reflects the modern world more accurately.