British Actors Sign Letter Demanding End to “Systemic Racism” in The Film Industry

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SANTA MONICA - FEB 21: Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo at the 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards on February 21, 2015 in Santa Monica, California (Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com)

Thousands of British actors, producers, and TV professionals have signed an open letter to the United Kingdom film industry calling for an end to “systemic racism”

The letter demands the UK industry to do the highlighted points:

  • Banish your weak excuses
  • Empower black and brown independent producers
  • Expand your vision
  • Be more demanding

Industry-leading British actors and professionals that signed the letter include Noel Clarke, David Oyelowo, Sophie Okonedo, Meera Syal, Gurinder Chadha, Asif Kapadia, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Harewood and Himesh Patel.

White members of the British TV and film, including Sandi Toksvig, Colin Firth, Stephen Graham, Samantha Morton, Bill Nighy, Ruth Wilson, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Sue Perkins, and Vicky McClure.

“Our stories are referred to as “too small” because they do not centre around white characters or a small subset of actors whom you deem valuable; they are not always written by the same white writers that you deem to be “safe”,” the letter reads.

This news comes after a Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic TV Task Force wrote a similar letter to UK networks, streaming platforms, and the government calling for change. The letter had 700 signatures last week and the task force grew to hundreds of members following the death of George Floyd at the hands of American police officers and the meteoric rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

You can read the full letter below:

Dear UK Film and TV Industry,

Having been inspired by the Black Film Collective who put together a powerful open letter to Hollywood last week on behalf of many brothers and sisters in the industry, we would like to send you something in collaboration with them, which we feel addresses our continuing issues with the UK industry.

This letter is from your colleagues in the UK – Black and Brown (inc. all Asians) independent producers, writers, directors and actors in alliance with many advocates for change. As one extended community, we require your active engagement to tackle structural and systemic racism in our industry, in the UK and around the world.

While messages condemning racism and advocating for solidarity on social media may inspire hope, the UK Industry must put its money and practices where its mouth is. A direct line can be drawn from the stories and voices that are silenced and ignored, to the discrimination and biases that are pervasive in the entertainment industry and larger society. This moment in history presents an opportunity for you to be a positive partner for change.

Our aim is that this letter produces strategic commitments from you to reshape our industry into one whose words are supported by action. Toward that end:

1. Banish “Your Weak Excuses”

Banish “it’s too small” from your lexicon. It is insulting to our stories, our history, our impact on world culture, and our worth. Our stories are referred to as “too small” because they do not centre around white characters or a small subset of actors whom you deem valuable; they are not always written by the same white writers that you deem to be “safe”. Banish “we already have a diverse project on our slate”.

There is room for more than one. You make countless projects with similar themes and storylines with white creatives. Banish “that feels risky”. We know we are introducing you to new unproven talent, but why is the same white man (who has made a string of flops after his one hit 10 years ago) still deemed less risky than a new brown or black writer with original and well written ideas. We know that many of our stories feel unfamiliar to you because they go against your preconceived notions of us and make you step outside your familiar world. But they are familiar to us.

Hire us and together let us tell truthful, bold and imaginative stories from rich new perspectives. There are countless men and women in the streets right now, putting their lives, health, and livelihoods on the line, fighting for an end to systemic racism. There will be no end until financiers, distributors and the community of decision-makers cease this practice of marginalising our voices and our stories. If Black lives matter to you, our stories and the scale on which they are marketed and distributed must as well.

2. Empower Black and Brown Independent Producers

Hiring Black and Brown writers and directors is of course of great importance, but rarely is this opportunity given to Black and Brown independent producers. Only 5% of the producers supported by the BFI in 2018/19 were producers of colour. This is especially troubling because producers often work with multiple writers and directors. Supporting one producer effectively supports many Black and Brown professionals above and below the line. Take a deeper look at the community of Black and Brown independent producers, working hand in hand with talented directors.

Many have compelling slates of projects in need of willing partners. There hasn’t been a Black/Brown producer on Variety’s “10 Producers to Watch” list since 2017. We don’t mean to point the finger solely at Variety, because similar lists are printed in various trades. In addition, they all seek recommendations from agencies, management companies, and elite publicists. So this incredibly valuable publicity is often limited to advancing the careers of those who need publicity the least. Empower those that need it the most.

3. Expand Your Vision

Think outside the box when looking for new talent. There are numerous diversity schemes out there, which is a good start and we support them all. But we need more sustained endorsement. Empower those that come through those schemes. Let us look at making sure those graduates stay in the industry and are nurtured and promoted so that they become the decision makers and help create change. Until we are in positions of power nothing will really change.

4. Be More Demanding

Actors, managers and agents must become more demanding about the teams behind the camera. If there are no Black producers, no Brown DOPs, no diverse department heads, you must speak up and challenge. To agents, be proactive in asking on behalf of your clients. Look at your rosters too. Who do you represent? How diverse are they? Without your vocal support, we will continue to be largely shut out of this industry and it is not for lack of excellence. It is for lack of will on the part of producers, network executives and studio heads. It is that simple.

We challenge you to become willing partners in this crucial endeavor. If the full spectrum of our experiences are not produced, marketed and celebrated with some regularity then you are actively denying our humanity and our history. Our stories and experiences can no longer be limited to being backdrops for white narratives and protagonists. Until we are able to show our FULL joy, grief, fear, history, pride and all the other myriad of emotions and experiences, then you are simply upholding the status quo and enabling a society that keeps white people comfortable in their racism and Black and Brown people perpetually dehumanised. Until we are allowed to make mistakes and try again like many of our white counterparts, we will never succeed in the same way.

You are a large part of the problem and it is time to be honest about it. For far too long, the images on our screens have projected lies and partial truth when it comes to our lives and history, minimising our perceived value and creating ripple effects throughout society.

This letter is in defence of all Black and Brown creative artists and the communities they come from. It is in defence of the millions of lives that have gone unrecorded. It is in defence of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Belly Mujinga, Trayvon Martin, Stephen Lawrence, Zahid Mubarek, Mark Duggan, Sarah Reed, the black and brown health professionals who have died from Covid -19, and so many other lives senselessly and tragically cut short.

Your messages in support of Black Lives Matter are a first step. But after decades of enabling racism in your ranks and beyond, it is time to do more. If Black lives really matter to you, our stories must as well. Please help us tell the whole truth. Black and Brown lives all over the world depend on it.

In relevant news, Netflix CEO and his wife Patty Quillin are donating $120 million toward student scholarships at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

According to reports, the couple is giving $40 million to three major Black institutions including the following:

  • The United Negro College Fund
  • Spelman College
  • Morehouse College

The organizations say it is the large individual git in support of student scholarships at HBCUs. It is important to note, Hastings has a long history of supporting educational programs. He launched a $100 million fund in 2016, giving money toward college scholarships for Black and Latino students.

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