More than 100 prominent actors and theatremakers including Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Shobna Gulati have warned that trust in Equity has been “critically undermined” by its handling of the Laurence Fox row and that new leadership is required to secure “meaningful progress” for minority ethnic members.
In an open letter to Equity members (which can be read in full at the bottom), signed by more than 100 people – including both members and non-members of Equity – they state they will not take part in a recently established Race Equality Task Force established by the union until new leadership is in place following elections later this year.
The letter is in response to an Equity Zooms in on… Equality event held earlier this month, which was held in the wake of the union settling out of court with actor Fox, after he was criticised on Twitter by Equity’s Race Equality Committee. The tweets labelled Fox a “disgrace” to the industry, for which Equity apologised, prompting the committee to resign en masse as a result.
The open letter states: “We all firmly believe that union activity is crucial to securing equality for creative workers and we remain hopeful that we can achieve this together. However, such an outcome is only possible with the trust of union members, trust that we feel has recently been critically undermined by Equity’s announcement of a settlement in response to litigation brought by a non-member, exemplified by the resignation of the Race Equality Committee.”
It adds: “We no longer feel that meaningful progress can be made for minority ethnic members under current Equity leadership. As such, we will not be taking part in the recently announced Race Equality Task Force until after the elections for General Secretary, Council, President, Appeals and Standing Orders Committees have been concluded in July.”
The letter, also signed by Actors Touring Company artistic director Matthew Xia and Luton North MP Sarah Owen, states that it wants “all members to address minority ethnic concerns in our industry”, calling it essential work “in the fight for equality”.
“But we cannot in all conscience urge others to participate in an exercise we ourselves will not. We feel new leadership is needed. We feel trust needs to be rebuilt,” it states.
The letter accuses Equity of a “box-ticking exercise” and states there has been “no meaningful communication from senior management with ex-committee members and no robust response from Equity outlining a way forward”.
Responding, Equity general secretary Christine Payne said the task force would comprise Equity members drawn from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and supplemented by expert witnesses.
“The task force will commence the important work outlined by the REC in autumn 2019 as part of its two-year strategic objectives, including the crafting of a dedicated anti-racism policy for the union. Its focus will also include the process of re-electing a new REC,” she said.
She added that it would be led by black and minority ethnic members of Equity and “be independent” of the union’s council and staff.
“Equity is pleased to confirm that, as a result of on-going dialogue with ex-REC members, several have agreed to either sit on the task force, or act as expert witnesses to it,” she said, adding: “During an unprecedented crisis for Equity members, their union has not lost sight of its commitment to the fight against racism, discrimination and hate.”