U.K. Star Lenny Henry Calls for Law to Boost Ethnic Diversity in Industry

Lenny Henry P

The number of black, Asian and minority professionals working in the U.K. television industry fell by more than 30 percent between 2006 and 2012.

LONDON – British TV personality Lenny Henry used an honorary lecture delivered at BAFTA headquarters in London Monday to call for new legislation that would bring more black, Asian and minority ethic (BAME) professionals into roles within the creative industries.

Each year, BAFTA invites one of TV's foremost figures to give their personal view on creative excellence in television and their vision for the future. 

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Henry used his platform to expand on recommendations he put forward earlier in March at a roundtable held by U.K. government culture minister Ed Vaizey to discuss the decline in the BAME workforce in Britain, which was revealed in a 2012 employment census conducted by industry body Creative Skillset.

Henry said the situation has "deteriorated badly," with the number of BAME people working in the U.K. television industry falling by 30.9 percent between 2006 and 2012.

They now make up just 5.4 percent of the broadcasting workforce, which Henry described as an "appalling percentage."

Henry said he was speaking on behalf of the 2,000 BAME professionals who have left the industry over the last three years while the industry overall has grown by over 4,000 people.

According to the report of the event in the Guardian, Henry noted that star actors such as David Harewood are still "frustrated by the lack of opportunities in the U.K." and "very disappointed offers are still not coming in."

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Henry contrasted pictures of the casts of U.S. and U.K. dramas such as Gray's Anatomy and the mostly white Channel 4 series Southcliffe and ITV's Broadchurch, noting that "you rarely see a black face" in high-end British dramas and comedies, such as ITV's Downton Abbey.

Henry is presenting a proposal to BBC director general Tony Hall on Tuesday and to the regulator Ofcom intended to encourage more productions to use BAME actors and production staff.

Paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr., he said he had a "screen dream" that "would need some kind of legislation."

Henry's career spans nearly 40 years in TV and onstage, and he is currently conducting Ph.D. research into BAME representation in the media.

Henry's proposal to Hall involves ring-fencing money for BAME shows and setting targets adapted from the BBC's model, which it has used to increase the number of programs from the nations and regions by 400 percent.

Henry has proposed three criteria that could be used to define a BAME production and says two out of the three would have to be satisfied for a show to qualify.

The criteria include 50 percent of production staff on a project must be BAME and 50 percent of onscreen talent must be BAME, and the production company controllers and/or the managing executives and/or senior personnel must be 30 percent BAME.

Henry's proposal also says, "commissioners should be appointed to actively seek out and commission from BAME productions."

Past BAFTA Television speakers include Stephen Fry, Paul Abbott, Lorraine Heggessey, Kevin Lygo, Alan Yentob, Peter Bennett-Jones and Armando Iannucci.