Report: Fewer than five per cent of lead actors in British TV are Black

English actor Idris Elba is one of the few Black actors cast as the lead character of a British TV programme, according to a new report. — AFP pic
English actor Idris Elba is one of the few Black actors cast as the lead character of a British TV programme, according to a new report. — AFP pic

LONDON, Oct 20 — An alarming statistic. While the Bafta has recently announced new rules to boost diversity in film awards, a new report reveals that Black people make up only 4.7 per cent of lead acting roles in British TV. A phenomenon that is also pervasive behind the scenes, where those who identify as Black account for 1.6 per cent of writers working in British TV.

For its report, the Creative Diversity Network has interviewed over 30,000 individuals, who collectively made over 600,000 contributions to British TV productions broadcast between August 2018 and July 2019.

Researchers found that people who identify as Black, East Asian, or other ethnic groups (BAME) are making more contributions on-screen than off-screen. Over the last three years, the overall proportion of on-screen contributions of BAME groups to UK programmes have increased from 21.8 per cent to 22.7 per cent.

Despite this encouraging result, the survey points out that people identifying with Mixed, Black and other ethnic groups are more likely to appear in a supporting, rather than a lead role.

They are also making proportionally fewer contributions during primetime, which is when the most watched and high-profile programmes are broadcast. Surprisingly, those who identify as South Asian are the only ethnic group whose on-screen representation is higher in primetime programmes (6.9 per cent versus 5.4 per cent).

The CDN survey also shows that the lack of representation of BAME groups is particularly visible off-screen, especially when it comes to technical and craft roles across UK TV production. People who identify as East Asian, or other ethnic groups contributed to less than one per cent of camera roles, compared to 87.5 per cent for those identifying as White.

Set design and hair and makeup are production areas where these inequalities are even more alarming, as there were so few contributions made by people with South and East Asian backgrounds that the Creative Diversity Network was unable to publish data on them.

“In some respects, the findings of our analysis are startling, even shocking; but at the same time, its findings are not entirely new — they are now just evidenced” Deborah Williams, CDN’s executive director, wrote in the report.

“It is clear that there is so much more work to be done, and it is vital that we now find ways to bring together all of the conversations, debates, data and evidence to build on our foundation stones.”

Last June, some 5,000 members of Britain’s film and TV industry signed an open letter calling on gatekeepers to “banish weak excuses” to tackle structural and systematic racism on-screen and off-screen. A strong call to action to which the BBC has answered by announcing that, from April 2021, it will require 20 per cent of talent working on its new TV commissions to come from diverse backgrounds. — AFP-Relaxnews

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