A BBC non-executive director has criticised broadcasters for “over-representation of black and brown faces in some areas on screen”, blaming their “tick-box” approach to making sure there are more non-white faces on television.
Samir Shah, who sits on the Corporation’s board of directors and also runs his own production company, Juniper, said this created a lack of authenticity on TV, particularly when it comes to dramas.
Shah, addressing the Royal Television Society last night, said: “I don’t think that such over-representation is a brilliant idea. I hear of drama departments that are considering ensuring a smattering of non-white faces almost regardless of the editorial imperatives. Trust me, that’s not the answer. Because it’s just not real.”
He pointed to research conducted by Mukti Jain Campion, a research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, which he said showed that ethnic minorities were concerned about authentic representation on screen.
“One of her research conclusions was that few parts played by minority actors are culturally specific. But even when there is an attempt to acknowledge the cultural background of an ethnic minority character, it rarely rings true,” he added.
Shah pointed to the Ferreira family in EastEnders as an example of this.
“If you were to cast an Asian family in the east end, it should have been Bangladeshi. Instead we have a family of Goan descent,” he said.
Shah added: “The plain fact is that this tick-box approach to equal opportunities has led to an inauthentic representation of who we are – a world of deracinated coloured people flickering across our screens – to the irritation of many viewers and the embarrassment of the very people such actions are meant to appease.”
His speech follows one made by Lenny Henry earlier this year, who said there was a lack of diversity in British broadcasting. Earlier this year, The Stage also reported comments from Extras producer Charlie Hanson, who said there were not enough black faces in senior production roles at the BBC.
In his speech, Shah echoed this, and said the positions of real creative power in British broadcasting were controlled by a “largely liberal, white, middle-class, cultural elite”.