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Clarke calls for new content gatekeepers

Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke in Bulletproof

MIPCOM: UK actor, director, screenwriter and producer Noel Clarke has said television’s commissioning “gatekeepers” must change for screen diversity and inclusion to improve.

Clarke broke through as a writer and actor with 2006 feature film Kidulthood and went on to write, direct and star in sequels Adulthood and Brotherhood. He also starred as Mickey Smith in the rebooted Doctor Who in 2005 and co-created Sky crime drama Bulletproof, which debuted in 2018 and became one of the satcaster’s biggest original dramas.

Speaking to Australian producer Greer Simpkin during a Mipcom Online+ discussion, he said those in charge of commissioning must change before diversity can improve in front of and behind the camera.

“The gatekeepers need to change,” he said. “I love the whole ideology of the SVoDs because they’re animals, they just need content. They just eat everything. By default, more things are getting made by more people and you’re getting a wider selection for people. It’s putting pressure on regular channels to step up their game. I do love that.

“In terms of how it changes with regular channels, the people commissioning are from the same sort of educational background, they all know each other, and as much as they don’t think they do, they all see things the same way and they have a channel that sees things the same way.

“They’d rather not do something than take a risk and lose their job. But the problem is you can’t just bring new people in because the new people don’t necessarily have the experience, because it hasn’t been an equal footing for so long that there aren’t people you can just put in those positions.

“It’s a difficult thing. It takes five, 10 years, maybe, sadly, where I’m too old to really benefit by that point.”

During the session, Clarke spoke about how the UK “wasn’t ready or wasn’t willing” to have two black leads in a movie or TV series until Clarke and Ashley Walters created their own series, Bulletproof.

“It’s changing a bit now but it’s still a problem,” he said. “Back when Ashley and I were coming up, if Ashley was in a movie or was working, I wasn’t eating for however long because it was like, ‘We’ve got our working class black person and they’re all the same,’ basically. It was never a thing that was said out loud but it was clear. He felt the same and if I worked, he wasn’t working.”

Clarke, who co-founded All3Media-backed Unstoppable Film and Television with producing partner Jason Maza, also described his experience of production companies and executives refusing to meet him and the lack of opportunity to write mainstream projects because they were deemed “too ambitious.”

“It looks like I’ve forged my way because I haven’t given up and I’ve battled,” he said. “I would say I really ambled and scrambled my way through a path of glass, thorns and barbed wire. I’m mentally scarred by a lot of it. I’m a survivor of this business, not a success.”

He added that with Bafta’s changing guidelines concerning inclusion and diversity in both film and television, the industry is changing and his role now is to help create opportunities for people of colour and bring through the next generation of talent.

“I grew up wanting to be like a big actor and I’ve learnt that, actually, my job is to open the door for other people,” he said. “I’m still doing it and I’m doing all right, obviously. But I’ve learnt that I’m not going to be Denzel [Washington]. I’m going to help facilitate the next Denzel.”

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