BAFTA/BFI Film Diversity Measures may not lead to BAME employment

The press should not exaggerate the effectiveness of the film diversity measures introduced by BAFTA this week. They deserve only a small welcome.

Simon Albury
19 December 2016

Actor Leon Herbert protests lack of diversity at the BAFTA film awards. Jonathan Brady PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.The press has overblown the film diversity measures announced by BAFTA this week.

The Guardian reported they mean “nominees must show they have boosted opportunities for ethnic minority and socially disadvantaged film-makers.” That is not true. On Talk Radio, Julia Hartley-Brewer said a film that was “too white, too straight and too male” couldn’t win a BAFTA. As her 12.45pm phone guest, I explained why that wasn’t true. The Telegraph suggested that I had said that BAFTA’s membership requirements and old awards system had “blighted progress in the industry for decades”. Again not true.

Let’s look at what is true. When it comes to membership, BAFTA has done well. Last week in the members’ bar, Sugar Films supremo and industry big wig Pat Younge was doing business with a large diverse group at one of BAFTA’s big round tables and, as usual, there were many other BAME people around the room. So, on membership BAFTA starts from a good place.

Now Variety reports that, for 2017, BAFTA has “abolished the requirement for new member applicants to need proposers and seconders from the existing membership”. If true, this removes the “who you know” hurdle from joining BAFTA and is a great move and deserves a big welcome. As I did tell the Telegraph – on diversity “who you know” has blighted progress in the industry for decades.

What has caught the press’ eye is BAFTA’a announcment it will add the BFI Diversity Standards to the eligibility criteria for the Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer categories from 2019. This is welcome but it might have no impact on BAME or disabled employment on-screen or off. To understand why, you have to look at the full detail of the criteria in the BFI document.

1. To meet the standard only two out of the following four criteria areas needs to be addressed:

  • - On screen representation, themes and narratives
  • - Project leadership and creative practitioners
  • - Industry access and opportunities
  • - Opportunities for diversity in audience development.

In practice, a film could meet the diversity standard by employing the following combination: an expert advisor, providing one off student work experience, added value in a specific UK region and reaching new audiences through alternative distribution and marketing strategies (e.g. VOD, special events, targeted pricing strategies). All these taken together are very nice but they will not drive the necessary structural change.

2. The most challenging disadvantaged groups may be ignored as, to qualify, a production can choose to focus on only one group from disability or gender or race or age or sexual orientation or lower economic status. The BFI criteria can be matched without addressing BAME or disabled employment at all. As I’m now in my seventies, I might be in with a chance on age!

The most recent Creative Skillset Census 2012 reported for Diversity in Film Production the makeup was:

47% Women

5.3% BAME

1.5% Disabled

For matching some paltry measures, a multi million pounds film will now be able to display an impressive Screen Diversity mark of good practice. The idea that a film that is “too white, too straight and too male” couldn’t win a BAFTA is clearly nonsense.

With the BFI Diversity Standards, a very small step has been made. It deserves only a very small welcome.

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