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Paulette Randall: ‘Diversity is a dirty word’

Paulette Randall, director Director Paulette Randall
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This story was amended on May 22 to reflect the fact Paulette Randall was the first female black director in the West End, not the first black director.

Director Paulette Randall has criticised the use of the term ‘BAME’, claiming it makes black and ethnic minority artists sound like an “unwanted appendage”.

Randall, who was the first female black director to bring a production to the West End with Fences in 2013, also claimed that she felt “pigeonholed” because people expect her to only direct black work. She admitted she feared not getting jobs if she suggested directing non-black work.

The director was speaking at a conference about diversity called The D Word, jointly organised by Nitrobeat and the Barbican, which took place at the Unicorn Theatre this week.

She described diversity as a “dirty word” because “people visibly shrink” when it gets mentioned.

“It’s not inspiring, it does not do what it’s supposed to do. We all know how powerful words are, so if it is perceived as a negative word it will affect us all in that way,” she said. “Diversity is a dirty word because of what it does to us. We really don’t know what we mean when we use it.”

Talking about the term BAME – used to refer collectively to black, Asian and minority ethnic people – Randall said: “It’s yet another label that distances us from each other and makes us, at worst, sound like an unwanted appendage.”

She added: “When asked what play I would like to do next my kneejerk reaction is to say, ‘It has to be something black’, so I guess I am as guilty as the next person, but I think there need to be more black plays staged on a regular basis and, being honest, I worry that if I suggest something that is not black I probably won’t get the job.”

The director said there needed to be more plays about “voices we rarely see on stage”, including those about working-class people, as well as Chinese and Jewish people.

“We are custodians of our history, so let’s tell the truth and not be afraid to let those diverse stories be seen and heard,” she added.

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