The shockwaves from the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement continue to reverberate throughout the entertainment industry and wider business world. A number of schemes and initiatives have been put in place to try to redress the historic racism and imbalance of representation and inclusion for minorities. Aside from television any product that helps shape the public’s psyche has been called into question. The Washington Redskins American football team have finally decided to change their name; Uncle Ben’s Rice and Aunt Jemima’s Syrup will have a rebrand and Johnson and Johnson will stop selling skin whitening creams.
In our industry in early July Channel 5 in the UK announced that it had commissioned shows from seven Black and Minority Ethic (BAME) owned and managed production companies. This imitative was praised because the films were not related to race but were subjects the producers were passionate about and could have been made by any “White” production company. Examples include Scenic Ireland: Coast (2x 60 min) from Afro-Mic and Living with Chronic Pain(1 x 60 min) produced by Doc Hearts, It was also seen as an example of unfussy, clear leadership that was able to produce concrete results in a relatively short time frame.
As well as its season of short films in direct response the George Floyd killing Channel 4 also launched a 6 point commitment to Anti Racism that included making 20% of their top staff BAME by 2023 and closing the BAME pay gap – which currently stands at 15%. They also launched an indie accelerator programme that will pair 10 BAME production companies with Channel 4 Commissioners in the first round.
ITV announced a 6 point plan including creating up to 20 opportunities in its middle management for under-represented candidates, along with 40 new apprenticeships and it also launched Step Up 60 which will give 60 people from under-represented backgrounds the chance to secure their first ITV senior editorial and production role.
In early July the BBC announced it will spend £100m across three years on diverse and inclusive content. This move will be supported by a mandatory 20% off-screen diverse-talent target for all network commissions which they hope to get written into show contracts . The 28th of July was also the launch of their CDX festival where young audiences were able to share and engage in conversation with diverse talent and content from around the world.
In the US CBS committed 25% of its 2021/22 script development budget to projects from creators, writers and producers who are Black, Indigenous and people of color. It also mandated that writers’ rooms for CBS shows must be staffed with a minimum of 40% BIPOC representation for the 2021/22 broadcast season.
So a great number of quite ambitious initiatives and to some degree it does feel like we’ve heard it all before. However, what feels slightly different this time is that July 2020 will be remembered as the moment that several broadcasters launched measureable targets and in 12 months time we can call them out on it and see how much has actually been achieved. Or better still we can just turn on the TV.
For Us, By Us?
Of all the debates over the previous weeks a couple of articles caught my eye.
The first was the news that a new documentary about Tiger Woods for HBO was facing a backlash due the project’s lack of diversity. Both the directors are White and people questioned whether a person of colour should have been involved considering the subject matter. What made this notable was that one of the directors responded to the criticism by saying “My privilege has opened doors, and I also understand that my privilege affects my storytelling perspective. I must actively prioritize inclusion of other perspectives in the projects that I undertake. In that vein, I absolutely should have done more to diversify our Tiger crew. I wish I could go back in time and change things, and it’s my responsibility to course correct and do better.”
The other was in the British theatre. Clint Dyer, a Black man, is to direct a new stage musical about Bob Marley after the original director, Dominic Cooke , stepped aside to acknowledge that “the conversation about race has changed in theatre, as it has across society”.
Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Story was developed by writer Lee Hall and Cooke, who are both White. Cooke said he had had an inspiring time preparing the production and called Dyer “a brilliant theatre-maker and an inspiring leader. I can’t wait to see what he brings to this powerful story.”
Several commentators asked where the line was and can we only make art about our own direct life experience? Others suggested that in an unfair and racist system it is far too easy for White men to hire each other and be comfortable because it’s what they’ve always done.
It is a tricky one. Certainly there shouldn’t be a limit on what a person of any background can create. There is something to be said for an outsider bringing a different perspective and that a combination of experiences can lead to something really great. However, as we try to create a fairer industry and more accurate representation of all aspects of society we must allow minorities access to the opportunities and networks to tell their own stories – or any stories for that matter. We start here and a day will come (not too far off I hope!) when we will no longer need to have this conversation.
For the month of July I’ve decided to look at children’s programming. For some reason I had assumed this area was pretty diverse. Cartoons can be any colour right? Wrong! Last year In the UK just six of 50 kids’ shows had a BAME lead. The £60 million Young Audience Content Fund set up by the UK Government and the BFI missed its target for applications from BAME or disabled-led indies in its first year. So what’s new for 2020?
JoJo & Gran Gran is the first British animated TV show about a Black family. The BBC programme tells the story of a four-year-old girl's adventures with her grandmother. It premiered in March and has since won a loyal following, with parents taking to Twitter to applaud the step towards greater diversity. As well as cultural diversity there was a conscious effort on the creator’s behalf to do away with the stereotype of grandparents as frail and doddery. Tom Cousins, the series’ producer wanted to showcase grandparents who were really active, energetic and capable Check it here
My World Kitchen is a BBC series that teaches children about the place food has in people’s cultural heritage. There are lots of fun, kid-friendly recipes from all over the world, and simple instructions that young viewers can follow. Chef Ainsley Harriott narrates each live-action episode, which features kids talking a bit about about their racial and ethnic backgrounds, including customs and traditions that they follow. It’s a really charming cooking show where the diversity never feels forced. Check it here
On Channel 5 UK I came across Nella the Princess Knight from Nick Junior. It is a British American production and features Nella, a biracial princess who gets into a series of adventures with her unicorn companion Trinket. They face off against assorted baddies around the brightly coloured kingdom while learning life lessons like courage and friendship. It was nominated for a NAACP image award in 2018. Check it here
In July the main terrestrial channels in the UK revealed plans to air more diverse kids programming in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. We wait and see.
Over on the cab/sat broadcaster SKY UK one of its most popular shows is Elena of Avalor from Disney. Inspired by diverse Latin cultures and folklore, it premiered in July 2016 and tells the story of Elena, a brave and adventurous teenager who has been learning what it takes to be a great leader by ruling her enchanted fairytale kingdom as crown princess until she is old enough to be queen. The series, which airs in over 150 countries around the world, has been lauded for its messages of leadership and inclusiveness. Coincidentally the series is expected to end this August with a prime time special. It has won several awards including the NAMIC ((National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications) Vision Awards for Animation in 2020. Check it here
That was about it for the main UK channels as far as I could see. So what about the Netflix and Youtube.
Over on Netflix I was surprised NOT to see a ton of kids series with diverse or Black leads. I’m not sure what their strategy is regards taking on Disney but they did announce a slew of new kids shows this time last year. However, not all have arrived on the platform. One show we hotly anticipate is Mama K’s Team 4 about four superhero teenage girls, living in an alternate futuristic setting of Lusaka, Zambia. They are later recruited by a retired secret agent, to help save the world. It was greenlit by Neflix in April 2019 and is written and created by Malenga Mulendema.
Two shows of note on Netflix are:
Motown Magic featuring Ben, an 8-year-old with a big heart and an even bigger imagination. With his magic paintbrush, Ben brings the streets of Motown back to life with vibrant tunes from the historic musical era. It’s definitely cute to see all generations of a Black family shown in this way and Ben himself is very relatable for the young ones.
Produced by Michael B Jordan’s Outlier Society a widowed single mom discovers that her son has super powers and tries to figure out how to raise him safely and responsibly. It has received great reviews and has been picked up by Netflix for a second season. Check it here
Over on Youtube there are a number of Black kids channels with some getting massive viewership. They tend to focus on live action more than animation. A few to mention are:
Onyx Kids: They describe themselves as “four siblings Shalom, Sinead, Shasha, and Shiloh who love to have cool adventures and get into funny situations.” Their channel has 1.5M subscribers and their most watched video – “Ketchup or Mustard” has 89M views! Check it here
Froggy Stuff has 2.3M subscribers and is a Mother-Daughter team of crafters. The channel focuses on crafts for teens 13 years and older and they also collect and unbox dolls. If they look happy it’s because they are able to get an average of 820,000 views per day from different sources. This should generate an estimated revenue of around $4,000 per day ($1.5 million a year) from ads. Check it here
Naiah and Elli have received over 1bn views since they launched in 2015. The Naiah and Elli Toys Show is a Toy Parody show for kids. They make doll and toy parodies, do silly skits and unbox different toy characters. Check it here
However Youtube is not all a bed of roses for Black creatives. In June a group of Black Youtubers sued the company alleging racial discrimination. The suit claims that YouTube uses its automated tools to "restrict, censor and denigrate" Black creators, hurting their subscribers and revenue, while videos with racist hate speech are hosted and allowed to make money on the site even after being flagged for violating YouTube's rules. One of the plaintiffs Lisa Cabrera says her 4,423 videos have generated 20 million views, but 68 of them were removed with no explanation. We’ll see how this one plays out.
So a not a great spread of content featuring Black leads for kids out there. As an indication of the problem a search of www.kidscreen.com for Black or African American producers or production companies yields zero results. The only search result for an African producer was as a speaker at an upcoming event. One article suggested that as far as diversity goes “with a starting position of nil, we’ve hardly made progress at all.”