The testimonies from drama students about their experiences of racism while at drama school should be a wake-up call for the sector.
The brave performers who have shared their stories this week are just the tip of the iceberg. We could only represent a selection of those who approached us and there were many more – including current students, recent and older graduates at a range of schools – who stepped forward to share their experiences on social media.
If there is one thing we can be sure of it is that this is not a case of a few one-off instances at a small selection of drama schools – it is clear this problem is endemic, deep-rooted and widespread throughout the drama training sector.
Because of this, if the schools wish to properly address the problem, it will require a thorough and far-reaching response that deals with this as an issue the whole industry must face, rather than treating it as individual problems for individual schools.
When the latter approach has been taken – for example at London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama – the results have clearly been unsatisfactory.
It is encouraging from the schools’ responses that some genuinely want to make positive changes to the way they operate to address what they recognise is a serious problem. But even the most strongly worded of statements are light on detail about tangible commitments that will be undertaken to improve things.
This is in the interest not only of all students, but of the schools themselves
This is a challenge that drama schools have been aware of for some time. Acting individually, they have shown that they have not been able to change quickly enough: progress has been glacial.
Now is the time for the entire sector to commit to an independent inquiry into the experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic students at British drama schools.
As well as analysing the current and historic state of play, this report should look at what specific, practical steps can be taken to ensure all students – no matter their background – are able to enjoy the same experiences in training, are offered the same opportunities and are treated equally.
If this is to be effective, the person heading up the report must be someone who the various campaigning organisations that have already done excellent work in this area – such as the Diversity School and Open Door – can support. And the drama schools must be prepared to commit to the recommendations that emerge from the inquiry on an agreed time frame.
This is in the interest not only of all students (current and future) but also of the schools themselves, if they wish to remain relevant to modern British society. Indeed, if they get it right, they can be at the vanguard of helping to change the very industry for which they train the next generation of talent.