Unions demand equality in film

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25 July 2014

The entertainment unions have written to British Film Institute Chair Greg Dyke requesting an urgent meeting discuss the organisation’s new diversity plan.

The unions, members of the Federation of Entertainment unions including BECTU, Equity, the Musicians Union, the National Union of Journalists and the Writers Guild, have warmly welcomed the BFI's introduction of equality monitoring. Unlike in broadcasting and the arts, this had never been standard practice in the film industry. And in particular the unions have congratulated the BFI on extending this to onscreen workers as this has never been the practice in any sector of the creative industries.

But the unions are extremely concerned that the proposed new "three ticks" diversity strategy is fundamentally flawed and will not achieve the aim of a more diverse workforce. This is because production companies are given a choice of which diversity strand they would like to address. The unions believe that the film industry could employ no ethnic minority workers at all and yet still qualify for funding under the guidelines.

BAME employment halves

Ever since the UK Film Council’s remit was transferred to the BFI the unions have been pressing for real action to address the astonishing under-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers in the film industry. Last year’s Creative Skillset census showed that between 2009 and 2012 BAME representation halved from 10.3% down to 5.3% in film production and from 6.9% to 3.4% in distribution. As 80% of the film production workforce and 68% of those in film distribution are in London, where half the population is BAME, this is shocking.

Within each category there are three or four options and applicants only have to meet the criteria in one of these. The criteria are such that a production that intends to hire a crew in line with the industry norm could qualify without making any changes.

No universal fix

The BFI has failed to recognise that the different diversity strands have different issues that cannot be addressed by a ‘one size fits all’ approach. While BAME workers and people with disabilities are exceptionally poorly represented throughout the industry, women are under-represented in some grades and occupations (such as on screen) and over-represented in others as are those the BFI describes as from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

For example if a production had a white female actor as one of its lead characters, and continued to employ a female costume designer and hair and make-up supervisor (grades that are overwhelmingly female-dominated) and an all-white crew, it would qualify. And were it to take on a white trainee the production would gain three ‘ticks’ and would be profiled as a good practice case study with the producer promoted by the BFI on the website.

The unions are also extremely concerned that the on screen diversity criteria are entirely focussed on character. This means for example that if a non-disabled actor played a lead disabled character role the criteria would be fulfilled regardless of the diversity of the talent engaged on the production. The overall proposal also allows for onscreen diversity to be ignored altogether if criteria within sections B and C are met.

Unions write to BFI

The entertainment unions wrote to Greg Dyke in February stating that in addition to equality monitoring, and publishing of that data for each company, the BFI should set targets that all recipients of funding should be required to meet, with those failing to meet them being penalised. Further, the BFI’s strategy should include ensuring that BAME funding applicants and participants in BFI and film industry diversity initiatives are able to work in their chosen themes and genres rather than being pigeonholed into working only on themes or in areas associated with their ethnicity.

The unions are yet to receive clarification that the BFI intends to publish the equality monitoring data for each production: they point out that in television the Independent Television Commission published the equality monitoring data of all its licences for years without problems, during which time progress was made.

So while the unions warmly welcome the introduction of equality monitoring in the film industry, they are greatly concerned that in their current form the 'three ticks' guidelines will work against the improvements Greg Dyke wishes to make, such that ethnic minority representation could fall even further, while job segregation by gender and socio-economic status is reinforced.

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