I wrote this for Open Democracy:#BLackLivesMatter in the UK too; why does the media care less?
It was later covered by the Guardian.
I wrote this for Open Democracy:#BLackLivesMatter in the UK too; why does the media care less?
It was later covered by the Guardian.
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.
Still partaking in the seemingly endless process of sorting through my bookmarks and came across this:
What the Hell is a Strong Woman Anyway? , a video reflection for the Guardian on the representation of women in film by director Chanya Button. It was timely, produced to coincide with this year’s BFI film festival.
The theme of this year’s festival was Strong Woman – prompting Button to probe what we mean by that. It’s an oft over-used term which can sometimes imply that strong women are the exception rather than the norm.
I like her video. I also feel a bit of ambivalence towards the term. I love films and TV shows with a strong female lead. I could write ode’s to Saga from the Bridge or Patti in Damages or Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder.
I gravitate towards media with interesting images of women, in particular those who are allowed to be three dimensional. Perhaps that’s it – what so many of us are yearning for is complicated female characters, because we are all complex in real life. We use the phrase “strong” because so often women are the foil for male characters, caricatures and stereotypes; so often they were just objects to be desired or rescued. What’s great is that in TV especially, we are seeing a range of characters – the sort of roles that men have taken for granted for decades.
Just – women.
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?
It’s been interesting to see how the results of a BBC survey of Muslim attitudes has been reported. The BBC headline is that the majority of British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals’. For the Telegraph and the Times among others, the newsworthy information was the fact that 27% of those polled sympathised with the motives behind the attacks. Others followed the BBC headline. The most interesting contribution I have read today is Ian Dunt from politics.co.uk , who deftly highlighted some of the underlying values revealed by the survey – not necessarily limited to those being surveyed:
“It’s difficult to compare the results of the BBC survey on Muslim opinions with the rest of the population, because no-one else is ever asked these questions – but it’s probable Muslims are actually more loyal to the UK than the general public.
Today’s BBC survey found 95% of Muslims are loyal to the country. There are no similar measurements for the general public.” – Ian Dunt
Ian goes further, and in my opinion to the heart of this general line of enquiry:
“The fact these questions are never asked of non-Muslims speaks volumes about the higher standards they are held to and the levels of proof they are required to provide. A terror attack by Muslims, be it by Isis or the lunatics in Paris, is always followed by demands, often in respectable newspapers, for Muslims to publicly distance themselves from them. These demands continue even when Muslim leaders have already done so, suggesting they are motivated by suspicion rather than reason.” – Dunt
And about that 27%….
“However, it is important to disentangle sympathy for motive and sympathy for action. We might sympathise with the motive of a homeless man who steals bread, while condemning the theft itself. Sympathising with the motives behind the attack is different to supporting it.
The background of the survey offers some indication of the context in which these sentiments are expressed. Muslims are afraid. Forty-six per cent said being a Muslim in Britain is difficult due to prejudice against Islam. Thirty-five per cent said most British people did not trust Muslims. Twenty per cent of Muslim women felt unsafe, as did ten per cent of Muslim men.
If these levels of discomfort and insecurity were expressed by any other ethnic group it would lead the headlines and hand-wringing editorials about where we’d gone wrong. Instead, it sparked headlines about the level of minority sympathy for the motives behind the Charlie Hebdo attack. That in itself speaks to the intellectual environment in which Muslims are forced to operate. The abiding message is that they refuse to integrate and that their culture is incompatible with western society. They are a problem to be solved.” – Dunt
This is the rather febrile atmosphere in which Cathy Newman saw fit to lie about being “ushered” out of a mosque. Why? And in which Grace Dent refers to the girls who left to join ISIS as “cool headed, elegantly pulled together, determined young women”, mocking in particular the grieving and bewildered parents who made a TV appeal clutching their girls’ teddy bears. Are they wrong? Yes. Worryingly, inexplicably misguided? Oh yes. Are they still children? Yes. An excellent riposte to that is over at Media Diversified: “The Denial of Childhood to Children of Colour“.
I don’t have the answers, but I know that this atmosphere doesn’t help. And the disingenous pleas for the Muslim community to somehow defeat the nihilistic, warped ideology of ISIS by themselves, as if the horrors of that group are visited on “us”, in the “West” alone… as if Muslims aren’t their main victims (in terms of numbers) – aren’t helping. ISIS, like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, claim to be Muslims but they’re really power-hungry murderers using their version of Islam as a handy ideological cloak for their bloodstained campaign. They’re a problem for us all.
A few weeks ago I heard an impassioned press conference by a US mother whose three children ran away to join ISIS, the younger two influenced by their older brother. I cannot remember whether they managed to apprehend them in time, but I do recall that she condemned their actions and wept for her chlidren, for her loss. She also addressed ISIS directly: “Leave our children alone.”
It began with a flurry of tweets:
Seeing as this was Channel 4’s newsreader Cathy Newman, her tweets not only generated the mandatory Twitter outrage, but also sparked a flurry of news articles.
The general tone was that of the mosque involved making an own goal, missing the chance to convince Britain and Britons that it was part of the community. The slightly perplexed mosque issued an apology.
Then came the CCTV footage that showed that Cathy Newman wasn’t ushered out at all; she visited the mosque in error (this one wasn’t part of Visit My Mosque) and her camera crew was waiting at another mosque down the road. Furthermore, a bemused person at the mosque had mistakenly directed her to a nearby church. She had merely entered the mosque and left on her own again after receiving the erroneous (but well-meaning directions).
This would all be fine except for the fact that the mosque has since received death threats as a result.
Cathy Newman, for all intents and purposes an experienced (and usually, really good actually) journalist knew that her tweets were indirectly saying something significant, signalling something quite deliberate on that day, in the nervy post-Charlie Hebdo environment in Europe, at a time when the Muslim community is even more under the microscope than usual.
Her tweets confirmed suspicions that the whole Visit My Mosque initiative was a publicity stunt; that parts of the Muslim community live “apart” from British values and way of life. That was the signal in her tweets. She didn’t say so explicitly; neither did the news reports of her story. However, this did come to dominate coverage of the whole initiative.
She has since apologised for any “misunderstanding”. Her flimsy non-apology has not been questioned by the mainstream media at all, who knew full well what she was implying with her tweets. There is a pretense here, as if this was just a straight story of a misunderstanding. It overlooks the pressure on the Muslim community and to some extent the mixed pressures of the initiative itself; anything that promotes greater understanding between communities is a good thing, but I can’t help feeling a certain discomfort that the hastily arranged event was a bit of a well-meaning post-Charlie Hebdo scramble to reassure that yes, the Muslim community is part of us, one of us.
The entitlement with which Cathy tweeted and passed judgment sticks in my craw, and the subsequent news stories were a bit of a “gotcha!” moment, as if the mosques were caught out revealing their true selves.
But now that Cathy has been shown to have been blowing it all out of proportion and straight-up lying, she has been allowed a free pass.Why did she do this? There has been no acknowledgment of the unsettling anti-Muslim undercurrent to the whole affair.
And while everyone in the media closes ranks around one of their own, some of us are left wondering what Cathy has revealed about herself.
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.
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?)
This 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*