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Actors and writers launch campaign for diversity quotas on TV

Danny Lee Wynter, who has spearheaded the Act for Change project.
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Broadcasters are under pressure to introduce quotas aimed at increasing diversity on screen, as part of a major campaign backed by actors, writers and directors, including Meera Syal, Stephen Poliakoff and Ruth Wilson.

The Act for Change Project has been launched by performer Danny Lee Wynter and Sheffield Theatres’ artistic director Daniel Evans, with the goal of getting broadcasters to better reflect the UK’s diverse population, taking into account gender, disability and those from a black, Asian or ethnic minority [BAME] background.

It was triggered by a trailer for ITV’s drama output, entitled Where Drama Lives, which failed to include any BAME actors.

This week, a conference was held at the Young Vic in London, which offered an opportunity for the industry to share ideas on how best to tackle the lack of diversity on UK television.

One of the measures put forward – which attracted overwhelming support from attendees – was to have quotas that would force broadcasters to ensure a percentage of their output features performers from diverse backgrounds.

The conference heard how representation of BAME people on television had fallen from 31% in 2006 to 5.4% today.

Speaking at the event, Syal said that attitudes within the TV sector were not changing, and that performers looked to the US for work because of measures in place there which ensure programmes feature actors from a BAME background.

“We have all been talking about America and how we look to America because they seem to be doing it properly,” she said, adding: “America did the enforced quota and I’m sure people didn’t like it at first. But I just think that sometimes, if attitudes aren’t changing, you’ve go to lead people that way.”

Syal acknowledged that there were concerns that quotas could lead to “tokenism” on screen, but added: “That only happens when there’s not enough talent out there. And we’ve got a massive amount of talent not getting the breaks.”

The panel for the launch included ITV director of drama Steve November, who said he was in favour of quotas, and that the broadcaster was shortly to announce its own measures to tackle diversity on screen.

At the conference, Wynter told The Stage he had not been in favour of quotas before Monday’s event.

But he said: “My own opinion of quotas changed within the first 15 minutes of today’s conference. I thought we should just get casting directors to use their imaginations more. But this has been going on so long that obviously TV channels can’t do it themselves. So they need what I call a gentle, wishful nudge.”

The panel for the project’s launch also included BBC casting director Julia Crampsie and writer/director Poliakoff, both of whom spoke of the need for drama schools to do more to improve diversity in the industry.

Crampsie said: “Drama schools really have to do more to encourage diversity.” She also said that every showcase she goes to looks the same, and questioned whether the cost of drama schools put people off, or whether people from BAME backgrounds “don’t see a career for themselves”.

Meanwhile, Poliakoff said there was a “terrible crisis” in drama schools, with people from BAME backgrounds not becoming actors.

In its manifesto, The Act for Change Project states it wants media regulator Ofcom to amend its broadcasting code to ensure, by 2016, that broadcasters’ content reflects the identity, character and cultural diversity of the UK and to make sure that production companies audition at least one BAME actor for every leading role.

The campaign is supported by the Young Vic, Liberty, The Stage and Equity.

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