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Michael Buffong: ‘Use diversity quotas or nothing will change’

Michael Buffong Michael Buffong
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Director Michael Buffong has called for quotas in the theatre industry to ensure diversity both on and off stage.

Buffong, who is artistic director of black-led theatre company Talawa, said the debate around diversity had been going on for too long with not enough noticeable change, and that there was too much talk about concerns but not enough action.

He also said change needed to happen “from the top”.

“I’ve been around for a while, I feel like I’ve been having this conversation for a really long time. There’s a new generation of people who are going, ‘Yeah, let’s do it’, but all the older people are saying, ‘We’ve already had this conversation’. I’m saying let’s do it. Let’s make change,” he said.

Buffong endorsed the implementation of quotas regarding ethnicity and gender in order to kickstart a change.

“I don’t see why we can’t [use quotas], at least there will be change. Either way, it will be different. Otherwise we will talk about it forever. People say you can’t legislate like that, but how else are you going to change anything?

“It needs to happen and it needs to happen from the top. There are loads of us at the bottom, but if it happens from the top it will make change,” he said.

His comments come following pressure group Act for Change’s diversity debate at the National Theatre, in which actor Adrian Lester said theatres should be shamed publicly if they fail to improve representation, claiming the industry was “slowly being embarrassed”.

Lenny Henry has also previously called for quotas in the industry to address diversity.

Buffong was speaking on a panel at Soho Create festival alongside playwright Jon Brittain and casting director Deborah McWilliams.

McWilliams, who is known for her work in casting films such as Skyfall and Casino Royale, described the acting industry as a “closed circle”, and joined Buffong in encouraging change from top-level positions.

“My opinion from the top is that it has to be the director. When I’m working on something you have to say, is there any reason why this couldn’t be someone from a different ethnicity, or be female? [Film] casts are dominated by male characters. Unless we do something, how is it ever going to change?,” she said.

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