Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

TV Sells Black Talent Short -- but We Won't

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

TV Sells Black Talent Short -- but We Won't

Article excerpt

WHAT do the Homeland star David Harewood, the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna and the outgoing creative director of BBC Productions, Pat Younge, have in common? Harewood, who played CIA deputy director David Estes in the hit series; Umunna, one of Britain's best-known black politicians; and Younge, the BBC's most senior black executive, have all lamented recently the dearth of major roles for ethnic minority talent in British television, both behind and especially in front of the camera.

Despite recent successes like Luther, starring Idris Elba, The Shadow Line and Dancing on the Edge starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Top Boy, Harewood and Umunna both argued that leading black and minority ethnic actors are still forced to seek parts in the US.

Younge, who claims he would have been more successful there too, has argued: "What they mean by parts isn't work -- there is probably work out there -- what they mean are meaningful roles which are fully rounded and have a decent back story."

It was a point made forcibly to me recently by a leading British Asian actress as she lamented scripts that came her way headed "this part could be black or Asian". And she is one of the success stories.

These were among the issues raised this past week at "Diversify", a forum at Bafta hosted by Broadcast and Screen International magazines in collaboration with Creative Skillset and FilmLondon, chaired by Baroness King.

A troubling statistic gave context to the debate. Creative Skillset's annual employment census revealed that the number of people working in creative industries from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME) had fallen from 12,250 in 2009 to 10,300 in 2012. At 8.9 per cent of the total in these industries, London was found to have the highest representation. However as the BAME communities represent some 28.8 per cent of the London working population it is actually the least representative region.

In Harewood's widely publicised interview with the Radio Times, he added: "I think perhaps it's to do with economics in the UK. There is a black middle class in America -- you have a black President, black CEOs, you've got black political analysts and you turn on CNN and you have black anchors. …

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