Is The Film And TV Industry Keeping Its Promise To Tackle Racism

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Is The Film And TV Industry Keeping Its Promise To Tackle Racism

In June 2020, an open letter was published calling on the UK’s film and TV industry to “tackle structural and systemic racism” in broadcasting and film-making.

Among the things the letter asked for was black and brown independent producers to be empowered and for the lack of diversity on productions to be constantly challenged.

Tinge Krishnan was among the 5,000 industry figures who signed up. “It really resonated with my feelings and emotions,” says the Bafta-winning film-maker, who has more than 20 years experience as a writer, director and producer.

Despite this, Krishnan says she has still seriously considered leaving the industry.

She says that while it’s easy for individuals to take a few seconds to sign their name to an aspirational document, it’s incredibly difficult for people to speak out about their negative experiences in film and TV because they fear retribution.

‘Nausea, rage and disappointment’

What helped to crystallise that realisation was what happened when she read some of the other names supporting the open letter.

“Suddenly I had this kind of gut-clench moment. A real moment of shock and nausea, rage and disappointment,” she says.

“Because I saw a company that had placed their stamp on this document that I knew for a fact from personal experience didn’t necessarily uphold those standards as enshrined in the letter. That was a shock for me. A real shock.”

Her experience related to an incident where she raised concerns about cultural sensitivity on a production. She was not the only person to speak up.

“When we brought these issues up, we were dismissed, our concerns were minimised. We were told by white people that it wasn’t racist,” she says.

“We were labelled as trouble-makers. The producers then rang my agents in a fury. And my agents, they were very supportive to me, but they became very fearful for my career.”

‘Our industry is based on fear’

A British actor, known internationally for both TV and cinema, says they were aware of what happened but have asked not to be named. Speaking out and voicing concerns publicly, they say, is a huge and potentially damaging undertaking.

“Our industry is based on fear,” is the individual’s stark message.

“I’ve had such bad experiences with them with diversity. If I didn’t know what [this company] was actually like, I would think, good for them signing the letter. But it’s so very opportunistic.

“People or organisations who have been particularly insensitive [are] jumping on a bandwagon. It’s so easy for people to just put their name on a document.”

Krishnan concurs about the continuing risks of speaking out. “It’s an industry of freelancers and people [are] scared as to whether we’re going to be seen to be difficult to work with. People are scared for their careers, and it’s a valid fear.

Safe space

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“Even doing this interview, there have been award-winning producers who’ve asked me to really reflect on whether taking this risk in speaking out is worth the potential damage to my career.”

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Krishnan says, on reflection, she believes it is. But the overall lack of progress in terms of diversity and representation has led her to think about leaving the TV and film industry completely.

“I feel for me that I’ve reached a point where I’m happy to walk away from the industry if it’s not a place where people can speak out,” she tells the BBC.

“I want to speak out and create a safe space for our children’s generation to work and grow and thrive and contribute.”

Is The Film And TV Industry Keeping Its Promise To Tackle Racism

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