Tag Archives: diversity


North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has a whole tumblr dedicated to him looking at things.

David Cameron has his own (definitely more benign) tumblr dedicated to him looking at fish while on holiday.

Something that’s not so benign (though from a media perspective, somewhat clever I suppose) is David Cameron’s habit of pointing at things and making policy announcements. Lots and lots of them.

What’s missing is details on exactly how he’s going to get this all done. Case in point: This weekend he (rightly) slammed institutional racism in the UK, warning “educational institutions, the police, the military and the courts they were the focus of a new effort to tackle social inequality fuelled by “ingrained, institutional and insidious” racism.” So far, so good. And you could say that the details will come.

But what’s also missing is some joined up thinking. Today, alongside figures that showed a 23% pay gap for Black graduates, measures came into force requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of their potential tenants. Predictably, industry experts (as immigration experts have been saying since this idea was first mooted) have warned that these measures will discriminate against those with foreign names, the young and less well-off.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) said its members faced a difficult choice: they could “take a restrictive view with prospective tenants, potentially causing difficulties for the 12 million UK citizens without a passport” or “target certain individuals to conduct the checks, opening themselves up to accusations of racism”.

Incidentally, this is in a rental market where there is already a problem for ethnic minorities, who are routinely discriminated against.

The Guardian reports: “Dr David Smith, policy director at the RLA, said: “The government argues that its ‘right to rent’ plans form part of a package to make the UK a more hostile environment for illegal immigrants. The evidence shows that it is creating a more hostile environment for good landlords and legitimate tenants.”

These are policies that Cameron has actually implemented.

Enough looking. We should be joining the dots.


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The 1.5 per cent

No, not the richest among us.

That would be the 1.5% of UK television made by a Black director. I’m just going to leave that here.

This is actually a stat from research  published last month by Directors UK (yes, still working that bookmark flex)

“We found that BAME directors are not only critically under-represented and under-employed in UK television as a whole, but that they are being given a far smaller proportion of directing opportunities in many key programming genres. Some of the most popular drama, comedy and entertainment shows had never been directed by a director who is of black, Asian or minority ethnic background – including all programmes within our sample from the following genres: period drama, chat show, game show, performance, reality, panel show, sketch comedy, and children’s comedy and entertainment.”- Directors UK

This matters. A lot. The entertainment industry is powerful; it’s where we tell our stories and have them told back to us, where issues are explored, mores challenged, issues aired. It’s not the only place, but it’s one of the most influential.

Our storytellers matter.

The report has recommendations too. It’s so easy to focus on on-screen talent, because it’s the most visible, but what goes on in the backroom is just as, if not more important because it shapes how these stories are told. It’s also a much less transparent process, merely by dint of the fact that these creatives are rarely seen.


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In Praise of Brothers with no game

The internet has been great for flattening (up to a point) the inequalities in media access for marginalised groups – perhaps a better way of putting it is, platforms like Twitter allow a space to reply but also to champion different agendas. But it’s not all reactive.

The internet is also a site for creativity and audience building. I first got into Black web series with Issa Rae’s funny and witty series Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, charting the (mis) adventures of J, an awkward Black girl. It has a great cast of quirky characters and some sketches that are (too) true to life.

Then I discovered the British comedy Brothers With No Game. Better than Entourage and with a specific British flavour, it’s a comedy series about four guy friends who have no game. Everyone has *those* dates, and BWNG unpacks it all in snappy 12 minute episodes. It can also be unexpectedly touching, dealing with issues such as unemployment and heartbreak – all from a guy’s perspective. And unlike Entourage, it manages to do it without being sexist and the female characters are allowed to develop personalities, with the women on BWNG an essential part of the story.

One of the female characters who appeared in a couple of episodes, Venus, went on to star in an eponymous show on dating and London life, Venus vs Mars, picked up on Sky Living. I really enjoyed it; it has a similar humour to BWNG; warm and engaging, with plenty of in-jokes that you just don’t get on mainstream TV. There are other shows in the BWNG stable, it’s great to see the outfit championing strong content, particularly from women.

So, I suppose this post is in praise of BWNG in particular and Black-produced web series in general. My favourites:

One. Brothers With No Game:

Two. Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl:

Three. Venus vs Mars:

Would you recommend any more?

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Princesses and Feminism

Full disclosure: I am a bit sick of Frozen. I thought it was ok, but I think I’ve read so many indulgent lifestyle articles in serious newspapers that talk endlessly about the author and their children that I’m just fatigued.

There was one that caught my attention this week, though, because I think it’s the peak of the trend: Peak Elsa, if you will: Jane Merrick in the Indepedent: Little Girls Dressing up as Elsa are the future of Feminism.

The future of feminism? Yes, Frozen was good in terms of bucking the traditional princess trend. It was actually about sisterhood instead, which made a nice change. It’s good for girls to aspire to be independent and strong, and not wait for a prince to save them. However, feminism is surely about more than your personal choices.

My neighbours on either side of me on my street have little girls who are obsessed, like every other little girl (and grown woman) with Frozen. Part of the reason I’m a bit ambivalent about the cartoon is because most mornings I am jolted awake by some discordant yelling singing of the theme song Let it Go as they get ready for school. Last weekend I got chatting to my neighbour about her home repairs. She remarked on how the women on my ethnically diverse and international London street, mostly single mothers, help each other out – from babysitting to house watching to school runs and all the little things that you need your neighbours to help with. I like to think I play my part.

I reflected on how wonderful it is when women work together; how each of us have such diverse stories and how much we all learn from each other. How we’re doing life together on this street. Those little girls dressed up as Elsa have an opportunity, living in one of London’s most diverse and not particularly affluent boroughs, to learn about issues to do with immigration, equal pay, refugees, childcare, the environment, human rights, homelessness, racial equality, and so much more. I hope that they learn not only that they aren’t little princesses that need saving, but how hard it is for the single mothers on the street to find affordable childcare. The immigrant stories of the women who weren’t born here and in some cases may have had their immigration status imperilled when their marriages broke down; access to services for refugee women – things that feminists should be fighting for. Women that other women should be taking up for.

Every street is different. But this is London; you don’t have to go far to find someone bumping up against an infrastructure that does women (and many men) no good. We need to dismantle it, smash it. Little girls can learn about it (and take part!) dressed up as Elsa; we just need to show them that it’s bigger than their lives; it’s about the women (and girls) who made that dress too.




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OK fine

I was going to ignore it.

So, Benedict Cumberbatch used the word “coloured” in a well-meaning comment about how it’s easier to find work in Hollywood as a Black actor, rather than the UK. I think Joseph Harker put it best in the Guardian – he didn’t mean to offend, but it shows that he moves in rarefied circles:

“To criticise Cumberbatch is missing the point: his comments betray the whiteness of the whole industry, and its representatives should be the ones apologising today.”

Now. I didn’t even break stride over this a few days ago, but I have been a bit taken aback and the explosion of posts – overwhelmingly by White authors – in the media since. We’ve had the “What’s the big deal?” articles, the well-meaning liberal whitesplaining articles “It’s not a nice word, guys. This is why the Blacks are irritated” and the obligatory “PC gone mad” brigade.

That’s all good and well, but it reinforced the image of the absurd lack of diversity in the commentariat that is so beautifully illustrated in the Evening Standard’s election line-up (previous post). That’s the real problem, not Cumberbatch’s clumsiness or lack of racial sensitivity.

This was the Evening Standard’s response when challenged on that by Media Diversified today. (And just like the point about the structural problems with diversity in the film industry, Harker gets it right again. Where are the “established” Black experts?)


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Election coverage for London

CaptureThis is the Evening Standard’s election coverage team. Congratulations to them all, I’m sure they’re all good at what they do and it’s great that we have three women on the panel –  but where are the ethnic minorities? This is London’s paper and the line-up looks nothing like the city. How can you provide comprehensive election coverage with these voices missing? If ever an election required a little less groupthink from the media, this was the one.

I could go on about diversity, the media, politics… But for now: *face palm*

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Lies and Diversity

Damn Lies

Considering that we’re in the fact-free immigration summer (albeit somewhat off the agenda at the moment given Gaza, Iraq and other foreign crises), you’d think more lies on top of the heap of mendacious government spin wouldn’t make a difference. But then, there’s Iain Duncan Smith. Every time he speaks out I am horrified afresh. Despite the overbudget, overdue computer system, despite welfare sanctions harming the most vulnerable and disabled, despite the fact that his project is more ideology than reality-based – he has survived a reshuffle and sails resolutely on, the wind of self-righteousness swelling his sails.

Most recently, he doubled down on the welfare reforms, praising the “recovery” that has more jobs but lower pay, and more insecure work bolstered by zero hours contracts, some of which actually prevent people from taking on other work but offer them no guarantees for the week, so you could make money to pay the bills – or not. Who knows? Scarily, the government will make even more cuts in the next parliament.

But what drives me crazy is the fact that Duncan Smith is rarely challenged on his fantastical statistics. Thank goodness, then for Polly Toynbee (read the whole article, it’s worth it, but here’s an extract)

“Politicians may deal in terminological inexactitudes, but I can’t think of many black-is-white, war-is-peace practitioners as downright deceptive as Iain Duncan Smith. Originally, the question was whether to put it down to simple stupidity, as he didn’t understand that the numbers he promised were impossible. Yesterday, poring over his big speech on welfare reform, a few of the more polite experts spoke of his “magical thinking”. But his motives and state of mind hardly matter to the millions affected by his evidence-free, faith-based policy-making.”

Diversity Hire

As always, Hugh Muir can be relied upon to excavate the Sayeeda Warsi resignation and tease out the nub of the issue of diversity in the workplace – it’s not enough to get brown faces at the table if you don’t listen to them. Of course, that doesn’t mean you do everything they say, but if you don’t get a decent hearing, get taken seriously, or if your views are dismissed out of turn, then of course, after a while, you give up.

And that’s not just a personal loss, the organisation loses out too. The point of getting more varied voices around the table is to have a better conversation and to effect change. And for political parties it’s not just electorally expedient to do so (Janan Ganesh makes this point brilliantly in the FT), it’s morally right to better reflect the country you may govern, with all its different constituencies.

“She brought diversity to government, not just because she is brown-skinned, northern and Muslim, but because her background and experiences gave her a different worldview. Diversity has to mean something other than different hues and genders around the board or cabinet table. It is also about the infusion of different perspectives from which new options and thinking might emerge.”

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The N-word and nursery rhymes

I am still busy trying to finish my degree, and currently nursing a cold, but here’s a piece I wrote for Independent Voices: “Yes, call out Clarkson for using the n-word, but it’s pointless stopping there” .

I must admit, Below The Line is a bruising place. I have to consciously steel myself, see if I have the emotional energy to take it on. This article has the most comments of any piece I’ve ever written. And as you will see, that’s not necessarily a good thing (!)

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Open Generation

Last week, I participated in a dynamic, challenging event on immigration and the younger generation, organised by Open Generation, part of the Migrant Rights Network.

Here is the video live stream of the event.



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Intriguing Resistance

NaomiCampbellFor an industry that changes with the seasons, some adjustments take a little longer to bed down. We’ve now completed the Fashion Weeks for New York, London and Paris. Before it all began, the Diversity Coalition, a campaign for greater diversity on the runway launched last year and spearheaded by veteran model booker Bethann Hardison, and supported by former supermodels Iman and Naomi Campbell, published its statistics on the use of black models in 2013’s runway shows.

Letters to the heads of each of the four fashion weeks analysed the numbers from 2013 and noted “a marked improvement”, but pointed out that “ there are design houses serviced by casting directors and stylists who are latent, as they seem comfortable with stereotypical images.”

In London in 2013, JW Anderson and Preen made the biggest improvements, using four black models each in 2013 compared to one before then. Temperley London used two black models, whereas before they had none, whereas Moschino Cheap and Chic had no black models at all, no change from previous years.

The numbers for this year aren’t in yet, but the Sunday Times reported that black models were still struggling to get cast in fashion shows despite the British Fashion Council writing to fashion houses urging them to diversify their shows to reflect the diversity of London.

Or just, you know, real life. I agree that it’s ridiculous to have all-white fashion shows in London, but surely it’s ridiculous anywhere. The world is diverse and fashion is a global business. This may be high fashion, but these images influence high street fashion and powerfully shape what we consider to be beautiful.  This is true for body image as well as skin colour – and the excuses that are often given for rejecting black models are “aesthetic”: one casting agent told the Sunday Times that designers would often say that black models were “too extreme” and “their features don’t fit”.

It does feel like we’re having a “Black” moment in the media and entertainment industries. The convergence of the Bafta Awards and London Fashion Week this year underscored this, with Lupita Nyong’o the undisputed red carpet darling, celebrated for her acting talent in 12 Years a Slave, as well as for her distinctive, gorgeous fashion sense. She stands out for many reasons; not least because she represents an image of black womanhood that’s not often celebrated –a dark-skinned woman with natural hair. She also joins five other Black actors on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue, widely touted as their most diverse yet in a year when Black actors are storming the awards ceremonies.

But is this a season or are we turning a corner? Time will tell if these actors continue to get offered Oscar-worthy roles, in particular roles that aren’t limited by history or biography to only be played by Black actors. Hopefully, in time we won’t need to keep tabs on the number of Black models on the catwalk or actors on the red carpet.

On receiving a Diversity Award from the Director’s Guild of America last month, Shonda Rhimes, creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, and who does colour blind casting for her shows, recently spoke about  being “a little pissed off because there still needs to be an award. Like, there’s such a lack of people hiring women and minorities that when someone does it on a regular basis, they are given an award.”

“It’s not because of a lack of talent. It’s because of a lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another… Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.”

We need more diverse stories and storytellers to reflect the world we live in.  What Shonda says about the gatekeepers of media holds true for fashion too.

A year on from the launch of the campaign, race is firmly on the agenda and black models are not afraid to speak up.  Heavyweights like Iman and Naomi Campbell have broken the silence and impressively, younger models still at the stage of building their careers have joined in;  Jourdan Dunn has been particularly outspoken.

Sustained change is going to take time, but Diversity Coalition is in it for the long haul: “We look for consistency and not because of advocacy or a season lending to darker skin…Diversifying is not difficult.  The resistance to do so is intriguing.”

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