Written By: John Plunkett 30/9/15
Star says black, Asian and minority ethnic people are ‘now allowed at the big table’, but rejects quotas as introduced by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky
Lenny Henry said television has taken “baby steps” towards improving its track record on diversity but questioned whether quotas were the right way forward in an industry that remained largely “monocultural”.
The TV and stage star, a prominent campaigner to improve the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the creative industries, said there was a sense that BAME people were “now allowed at the big table to discuss things”.
But Henry, who has called for the creation of a ringfenced fund for BAME TV projects, expressed concerns about the various BAME quota targets introduced by mainstream broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.
“My colleagues and I spoke about this, we are not really into the quotas thing,” Henry said on Wednesday. “Quotas are often about quantity and not quality. I think people should get jobs because they are qualified and they can prove they are good at the job.
“If you just have quotas it means you can go, we’ll get the guy from the car park, the woman from the canteen and the Indian guy from IT and then we can say we have filled the quota, right? That’s not the way to go forward.”
Henry joked that the BBC’s £2.1m creative diversity development fund would go “all on weathermen. We can do the weather, right?”
“I love the BBC but I just want this thing of BAME inclusion in the demographic of the people who make the decisions about what we do and how we do it, to change,” he said.
“I went through a period of nearly 40 years, every meeting I went to there was never anybody that looked like me. About 36 years into my career I went into a room and there was a black TV producer in there. I’m used to meeting people who park the car or give you a cheese sandwich or are cleaning a corridor. It was a huge change.
“What’s great is that it is changing, there are few more executives now in the industry but not many. And I’m pretty sure in the advertising industry it’s a similar thing.”
Speaking at Big Think 2015, an event organised by TV marketing body Thinkbox in London, Henry said: “I do think on-screen representation has changed, clearly people are thinking about the experts they have on, talking about more variegated casting but we are still way behind as far as behind the camera, producers, editors, there still has to be a massive shakeup.
“Birmingham is going to be in a few years time a majority minority city. There is going to be more mixed-race people than anyone else. Britain is multicultural and it will become more multicultural, not less, and you have to think about who is on your team.
“We are still at the very very beginning of the journey, we are not anywhere near the end, we won’t be for ages. These are all baby steps, right? It does take time.”
Henry said there was no legal barrier to setting up a fund for BAME productions, which has been resisted by broadcasters such as the BBC, but said there had to be a “coalition of the willing” to take it forward.
He suggested that the way to measure diversity in the industry was to take a picture at an awards ceremony. “Is it monocultural? I’m pretty sure it is,” he said.
Karen Blackett, the MediaCom UK chief executive who interviewed Henry, responded by pointing out that Henry and herself were the only BAME faces at the event, largely made up of advertising executives, at Bafta in central London.
Henry said the advertising industry was “incredibly monocultural” and he had only recently worked on an advert where a BAME person was part of the crew. He said one of the “greatest moments in advertising” was when a Maltesers advert featured two black girls.
“There have been three massive events for BAME,” he added. When Mandela was released, Obama becoming president and the Maltesers girls. It wasn’t about them being black, they were two black British girls crazy about Maltesers.”
Source: The Guardian