Sunday, April 20, 2008

Where is the Black Russell Brand? Or for that matter the Asian Martha Lane Fox?

The questions in the title popped into my head after a speech given to staff at Channel 4 this week by Lenny Henry entitled "The Road To Diversity Is Closed … Please Seek Alternate Route".

Stating that ethnicity was his diversity flag to wave, Lenny gave us an encore of a speech he'd already delivered to the Royal Television Society, highlighting the lack of non-white faces both in front of and behind the camera.

We raced through the industry's past embarrassments such as the excruciating Mind Your Language and unintentionally stereotype-enforcing Alf Garnett, before stopping off to celebrate some of the good work both home and abroad in the 80s and 90s such as Desmonds and The Cosby Show.

Arriving at the 21st century, Lenny then asked the crowd to shout out any comedy and entertainment programmes currently airing in the UK starring black or asian actors, comedians or presenters. Most eyes went down into laps, leaving one lone cry of "Little Miss Jocelyn" which apparently may have been cancelled anyway.

And whilst I heard and agreed somewhat with the view that Lenny's speech wasn't saying much not heard before, what was clear was that it needed to be stated again; at some stage the tv industry took its eye off the ball and positive action is now needed to find non-white writers, actors, directors, gaffers etc.

More shocking personally, however, was when I reflected on if Lenny had asked a question about senior figures within the new media industry from different ethnic backgrounds, what names would I come up with? For an industry that prides itself in being open, cutting edge and forward thinking, look around at any industry event and Greg Dyke's infamous phrase does come to mind.

Believe me, I have nothing against smart white men - I married one for starters. But blimey, when I look at the so-called "digerati" of the UK, it looks distinctly pasty and not a little testosterone heavy. In diversity terms, New Media is positively prehistoric (ironic really) and current networks seem to be perpetuating the make up of the current white, male, middle-class cliques.

If we really do have the future of media in our hands, surely we need to have a workforce that reflects our current society at the very least?

At the end of his speech, Lenny asked the audience to take some positive action - which I'll try to do in my day job - and I hope this post may have made you think a little about the diversity of your workforce or team. I also thought I may as well add the following which might help in some small way to introduce some new talent to our industry:

If you or someone you know might be interested in starting a career in UK new media and don't know where to start then do email me (via my profile above) and I'll see if I can put you in touch with someone or supply some useful information.

1 comment:

Charles Frith said...

Its not just television. Advertising is a white boys club and very much poorer for it.