“ Why we need 15% BAME employment in UK film production in 12 years” by Terry Ilott

14 November 2016

I’m not very pleased to be standing here, in Parliament, today. It shouldn’t be necessary.

We – the founders of the Film Diversity Action Group – were involved in the Committee for Ethnic Minority Employment in Film set up by Chris Smith when he was Secretary of State in 2000.  Fiona Clarke-Hackston convened it, Simon Albury chaired it and I wrote the report. That enquiry involved a number of leading figures in the industry and coasted on a wave of good intentions.

Our report back then made six recommendations, all of them voluntary, relying on the goodwill of the industry (goodwill which was then – as it is today – abundant and I believe genuine). We also relied on the good sense of the UK Film Council, to whom the six recommendations were passed.

As you know, nothing happened.

Since then, the BFI has formulated its Diversity Standards but nothing at all has been done to engage the wider industry in the ways we envisaged 18 years ago.

The statistic that prompted Chris Smith to take action in 2000 was that the proportion of BAME personnel working in film production was 3%.

It is still 3%.

Let me give a second statistic: nearly 70% of the film industry is concentrated in and around London, which is 40% BAME.

40% of 70% is 28%.

28% BAME personnel would be truly representative. 3% is what we’ve got.

The needle hasn’t moved.

But here’s the thing: the rest of the world has.

Film is a long way behind other industries.

Film is so far behind that for me – a 35-year veteran of the film business – it’s embarrassing.

Lack of diversity isn’t just a matter of unfairness; it’s not prudent. From the point of view of social cohesion, social mobility, talent development, creativity and economic benefit, lack of diversity is simply not a good idea. All the studies show that diversity equals creativity; that diversity equals enhanced performance. Homogeneity and lack of diversity leads to narrowness of vision and groupthink. Diversity leads to interesting overlaps, dissonances and innovation.

We rely heavily – to the tune of just under 90% of all film investment in the UK – on the Hollywood studios. Take them out of the equation and what does our indigenous industry look like? Creatively, I mean. Compared to, say, music?

We have some great film-makers and we make some great films, but overall to me it looks anaemic.

The talent, which I believe we have in abundance, is thwarted, held back.

Let me offer you a third statistic: according to a report of the University of Leicester, 71% of people working in film today heard about their present job through “informal means”.

You know what that means? It means “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…”

Employers – the production offices, heads of department – hire the people they’ve hired before. Or, if they can’t get who they want, they hire the people recommended by the people they’ve hired before.

I’m not blaming anyone for this. It’s how we all tend to work. But it makes it difficult – too difficult – for new entrants to get their foot in the door.

So our first conclusion – 18 years on – was that something far more emphatic needed to be done.  Voluntary doesn’t work. Goodwill doesn’t deliver.

Our second conclusion was that whatever we do has to be for the long term. We don’t want to be coming back here in 18 years time and hearing these same speeches.

The FDAG proposal is that diversity targets should become part of the eligibility criteria for film tax credits.

If the target isn’t met, no tax credit.

It’s tough. It’s all or nothing. It is not enough to show willing, you have to deliver. And we’re not looking for a pick-and-mix menu, where you can choose which kind of diversity you support.

If the BAME target isn’t met, no tax credit. End of.


We are proposing that the industry has 12 years to get there.

After six years, we expect 15% of persons employed on a film production to be BAME.

After 12 years, we expect, in addition, 15% in each department below-the-line to be BAME.

Not 28%

And not tomorrow.

15% in 12 years time.

Why 15%?

Because it seems to us that that will give us the critical mass. Roughly one in six. It will be the point at which the culture of the industry will have changed so dramatically that thereafter things will look after themselves.

Why 12 years?

Because it will take that long to implement all the changes – in secondary and higher education, in training and apprenticeships, in hiring policies and career progression, in the mentality of those who do the hiring and in the culture of the industry as a whole – to bear fruit and bring forth sufficient BAME candidates to make 15% meaningful in every department.

Some departments will change more quickly,

others more slowly.

Give them 12 years.

That doesn’t mean that nothing happens for 12 years. On the contrary, work begins on day one. The difference should be felt from years two and three. 12 years is the time needed to achieve our full ambition.

In our paper we set this out in detail. It’s up on the film diversity website (filmdiversity.net). You can read it at your leisure.

We provide chapter and verse supporting our claim that greater diversity equals greater creativity.

We set out in detail how our proposal would work – the mechanics and the procedures and the people who need to be involved.

And we deal with all the likely objections:

Will it contravene EU state aid rules?

Breach the Equality Act 2010?

Fall foul of Data Protection Legislation?

What if it puts producers in a position of not knowing until the last minute if they meet the diversity criteria and thereby it jeopardises their financing plans?

What anyway is the definition of BAME?

How are BAME personnel identified, verified and monitored?

How do we define production?

What about films that fall short in this or that department while exceeding the 15% threshold overall?

What about regional films that don’t have ready access to BAME personnel?

Why not leave the matter to BFI Diversity Standards and/or inclusion riders in artist’s contracts?

Or just leave it to the companies themselves? They are all well meaning after all. Many are already implementing diversity policies of their own.

Surely, the legislation required will be too complex?

And what about the unintended consequences: the formation of quota crews, unscrupulous BAME personnel holding productions to ransom, or other forms of abuse?

The answers are all there in our paper (albeit sometimes in the footnotes). Again, go to Filmdiversity.net

We have written to the Secretary of State and we have briefed in person the Minister for Culture, Communication and the Creative Industries. We are asking them for three things:

  1. A working group to consider this and other proposals. Including the proposal led by Sir Lenny Henry. (The Lenny Henry proposal offers the carrot of additional tax credits for diversity, whereas we threaten the stick of no tax credits without diversity; and his proposal embraces all forms of diversity where we are focussing solely on ethnicity. The two positions are not incompatible.)
  2. Immediate action to include diversity data in the paperwork for film certification. And the publication of that data on a regular basis.
  3. The establishment of a Diversity Monitor that publishes data from across the industry: individual productions, companies, sectors and segments (including distribution and exhibition, sales, special effects, all the way to marketing and PR). So that there is at last real transparency about this issue.

We are now asking for your support in our campaign for these three objectives.

The title of our paper is “It shouldn’t get the money if it doesn’t have the mix”.

That money comes out of the public purse. We – the public – are entitled to attach strings.

It really shouldn’t get the money if it doesn’t have the mix.

But let’s turn things around and end on a positive note:

“If it doeshave the mix, it gets the money. And deservedly so.”

This speech was delivered by Terry Ilott, Chair of the Film Diversity Action Group at the FDAG launch on 14 November 2018.

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