Idris Elba Urges U.K. Networks to Spend More on Minority Programs

Idris Elba - H 2014
AP Photo/ Donald Traill

Emma Thompson joins 'Luther' in expressing "dismay" about the current state of affairs

Luther star Idris Elba and other entertainment industry representatives have called on British TV networks to dedicate more funding to programs for ethnic minorities.

They spoke out in an open letter, published by The Guardian, among others, that was also signed by Emma Thompson, Stephen Daldry, Neil Gaiman and dozens of other industry insiders. It urged the BBC, ITV and others to set aside money for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) programs. They argued that recent BBC and ITV initiatives to improve BAME representation on and off the screen did not go far enough.

BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, earlier this week unveiled the widest-ranging diversity targets in the British TV industry. It said that by the end of 2015, it was targeting to have 20 percent of the stars and writers of its shows originated in the U.K. come from a minority background.

The letter urging more action was drafted before the announcement from BSkyB.

The letter started off by saying: "We are dismayed at the poor numbers of black, Asian and minority ethnic people both on our screens and working behind the camera." It highlighted stats that only 5 percent of those working in the U.K. creative industries have minority backgrounds, compared with 12.5 percent of Britain's total population.

"In order to redress this imbalance, we believe that the training, mentoring and development schemes recently announced, although welcome, are not sufficiently radical to effect significant change," the letter continued. "We propose, therefore, a solution that would almost immediately stimulate growth throughout the BAME creative community: a ringfenced pot of money for BAME programs."

It argued that "ringfencing" funding for minority shows was a better approach than quotas given that it allows a focus on "quality of programming, not quantity." It would also "create a more stable space for BAME talent on screen and behind the camera," the letter added.

It concluded: "The effect of this fund would be to engender and encourage television that would reflect one of Britain’s greatest strengths — our diversity."

The BBC recently also unveiled diversity initiatives, including a diversity action group, quota targets for minority staff and programs, an executive development program and a $3.5 million (£2.1 million) fund for the development of ideas from BAME individuals. And ITV has said it would target to mirror the ethnic makeup of Britain on the screen and off.

Twitter: @georgszalai