Act for Change, June 30, 2014 | Photo by Jon Holloway
Nowadays there have been many objections to the fact that there seems to be a decline in the number of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) inspirational characters in TV programmes and theatre productions. As a result, the Act for Change Conference was held at the Young Vic Theatre where many youths, people involved in aspects of drama, and various individuals interested in this debate attended and contributed fascinating ideas.
This conference was about integration and equality in the theatre and TV industry. There were many different opinions being thrown around the room that caused a lot of debate, especially to the panel hosting this. This debate got very heated and one repeated idea was that commissioners shouldn’t insult the audience’s intellect, meaning that the audience members shouldn’t be underestimated for what they know and how much inequality in the drama industry they notice.
One main subject was that stereotypical characters are constantly being cast by some theatres and the people making the decisions don’t seem to reflect the accurate lifestyle in London. Funds might restrict diversity but we soon learned that the BBC has a £2 billion budget; this revealed that this argument was irrelevant. In 2006 the percentage of BAME characters was 31% this number dropped dramatically to 5.4% and has remained at this figure ever since. These figures not only shocked us, the panel and the audience, but also showed us that there needs to be change and fast, leading to a massive discussion.
It became obvious that it is essential to have more inspirational roles for ethnic minorities. Some people blamed drama schools for this problem, but from personal experience we don’t agree with this because we know plenty of people who have different ethnicities that haven’t had any racial problems in drama schools whatsoever. But this is only from our perspective, as you grow older you begin to realise the seriousness and difficulty in casting and there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes. This is not only in smaller theatres but in soap dramas that millions watch across nations. For example, Eastenders has a larger number of cast members compared to smaller theatres who have a smaller number of cast members. The exciting debate made us think and acknowledge the huge issue which is evidently significant to our future generations and community.
The quantity of BAME actors isn’t as important as the quality and depth of each role. People from the USA contributed to the discussion also, some audience members felt strongly about this debate and one was later described as ‘feisty’ by the chairwoman. One lawyer mentioned the fact that it isn’t illegal to use creative ideas to mask racism in the UK however it is in the USA. Meaning that in the USA it is forbidden to pretend your casting decisions are based on story when actually you’re just discriminating.
We understand that there is pressure from the creative community, we shouldn’t forget that huge black roles have been played before and there are loads of BAME actors available but they just need to be noticed instead of being portrayed as unimportant extras. Where is the imagination in casting today in comparison to 20 years ago, when integration was first made mandatory? Are we moving backwards and becoming less diverse whilst the community around us becomes more diverse?
In conclusion, we think that this debate has caused a further larger debate with hundreds of people with different perspectives. It has allowed many people to understand numerous views in depth and why people are so passionate about change. We may only be teenagers but what we witnessed that day has definitely given us something new to think about and the level of importance when it comes to diversity is now clear which is usually hidden to the rest of the world. London is a diverse community and this should be reflected in drama productions.
By Udokama Iwumene & Emily McLaughlin, age 14