British Film Institute's Diversity Standards Have "Not Yet" Tackled Racial Inequality: Report

Steve McQueen - H 2016
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The report looked at 235 films that had passed the BFI's diversity standards criteria, finding that Black and ethnic minority worker participation was still significantly below that of other under-represented groups.

The British Film Institute's diversity standards — requiring film projects to hit a set number of diversity-focused criteria both in front of and behind the camera to secure financing from the BFI Film Fund — have become one of the organization's key initiatives since they were first introduced in 2014.

Both BBC Films and Film4, the U.K.'s two other main independent film funding bodies, have adopted the standards, while BAFTA in 2018 made them part of the eligibility rulings for both its British categories at the film awards. With AMPAS now having said it will be introducing its own set of inclusion requirements for Oscar eligibility, The Hollywood Reporter understands that the BFI's already well-established diversity standards are very much part of the conversation.

However, according to a new piece of research, while it may have helped improve the gender balance in the U.K.'s film industry, the standards have done little to tackle racial discrimination.

Titled "Race and Ethnicity in the U.K. Film Industry" and made with the cooperation of the BFI, which provided the raw data, the research report comes from Clive Nwonka, a fellow in film studies at the London School of Economics. It asserts that BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) worker participation is still significantly below that of other under-represented groups.

Of 235 films between 2016 and 2019 that adhered to the BFI diversity standards, the report found that 50 percent referenced race or ethnicity as a factor in their story/content, compared with 63 percent for gender.

Black and ethnic minority actors were also far less likely to be given lead character roles, while BAME storylines were far less likely to be cited as part of a main theme ("race/ethnicity" fell behind gender, socio-economic and disability as the under-represented group cited in the standards' main storyline category).

But BAME representation in front of the camera still outperformed racial diversity behind the scenes, with the report claiming that a number of films had passed the standards by citing onscreen race and ethnicity onscreen, while offering zero BAME employment elsewhere.

Just 40 percent of projects cited race/ethnicity in offscreen employment, compared to 71 percent for gender, it said, adding that BAME individuals were twice as unlikely to get department head and key offscreen roles and over three times as unlikely to gain crucial first job, early career and career progression roles than women (the most cited under-represented group).

The report also found the figures to be true across the spectrum of budgets, with the representation of race/ethnicity being "consistent" across all bands, from below £500,000 ($630,000) to more than £10 million ($12.6 million).

"The Diversity Standards currently has not yet responded to the challenge of racial inequality in the film industry and ethnic minorities remain severely excluded in the U.K. film industry, particularly off-screen," wrote Nwonka on Twitter.

Among a number of recommendations, the report says that film with budgets of more than £5 million ($6.3 million) should follow stricter criteria than currently in place, and that the BFI should create a liaison role to support productions on this specific issue and ensure standards are being met. In key production jobs, race or ethnic representation should be made compulsory, it added.

"This report acknowledges that the BFI Diversity Standards is an evolving concept and to this end, has performed as a crucial intervention in policy approaches to diversity in the film sector from 2016," the report surmised. "The Diversity Standards represents the most ambitious and wide-ranging attempt to respond to the issues of diversity with the sector. However, this research reveals a number of issues and area for improvement with both its methodology and uptake."

In response, the BFI's head of inclusion Jennifer Smith said that the report was "welcomed and timely" in providing further and independent Institute's own research publishing in January. 

"It reconfirms the significant barriers people of colour face in working in the film industry," she said, adding that the BFI was already working to strengthen the standards to "drive more engagement with people from underrepresented ethnicities," particularly within creative leadership roles and crews.

"More broadly, we are calling on the industry to urgently address the persistent diversity deficit across the sector, which is our collective responsibility," she said.

Regarding the recommendations, Smith said that while they were useful points of focus, particularly as the BFI undergoes its own review, some were already being addressed. Others, she said, were beyond the scope of the standards due to legal restrictions connected to the U.K.'s Equality Act. 

"Therefore, how we focus specific criteria on particular characteristics, such as ethnicity, is an ongoing legal challenge for us," said Smith. 

However, Nwonka has asserted that his recommendations were made with due diligence and an awareness of the parameters of the Equalities Act, and were endorsed by the BFI.

According to Smith, while the dataset used in the report was of 235 films, which started principle photography between June 2016 and March 2019, the number of features made in the U.K. during that period was actually 883.

"This demonstrates the lack of comprehensive data diversity data available from across the industry, which only confounds the issue, so we are continuing to advocate for an industrywide system to collect self-declared diversity data for cast and crew on all film productions," she said. 

Diversity across the British film industry has become a major concern this year following the controversy that erupted after the BAFTA nominations in January and, more recently, in the wake of major international protests against racism after the killing of George Floyd by police in the U.S.

Days after the nominations furor, which was sparked after it emerged that Black talent had been snubbed in BAFTA's main acting categories, 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen said that the British Academy had to adapt or have "no credibility at all," arguing that the the problem was part of a wider issue within British society where "Black British talent gets very much overlooked."

BAFTA has since begun a "thorough review," looking at its nominations and voting process, the role of distributors, the campaigning process, the makeup of its membership and, it says, "ultimately how these processes and conditions might be improved with solutions can help drive positive change in the wider industry."

Updated to include BFI response to report and Dr. Nwonka's response to comments regarding the Equality Act.