Diversity within the film industry has been a hot topic this year, why were there no black candidates up for an Oscar? Why is there so little ethnic minority and diversity within the film industry? Whose fault is this?
I count myself as one of the lucky ones, I somehow managed to wrangle myself a career in the film and TV industry, working on some of the biggest movies made in the past few years in the UK. I’ve worked with many talented and amazing people but there’s just one thing I’ve noticed….the lack of ethnic diversity in the film and TV industry.
On the last big budget film I worked on there must have been well over 500 people working on the film, I would say I was only one or two non- white members of the crew. Part of the problem lies in the recruitment process. This is an industry about who you know, if you don’t hang around in the right circles you’re not going to get in. Opportunities don’t get passed on to new blood it’s often passed on from father to son, mother to daughter and friends of friends, often denying real talent a chance in the industry because of the lack of opportunity and lack of risk taking on the new generation. Hollywood executives (or the one‘s I’ve met anyway) have been born into the role, rich families who already have a connection to the industry where they’ve jumped straight to the top without knowing what it’s like to be at the bottom. This is a industry deeply rooted into white society and culture and deprives people of a less privileged background and diversity a chance, from what I can see the studios who make the film aren’t too bothered by diversity within the industry and why would they? Their main concern is to make sure that their big blockbusters generate the money and that their winter release gets critical acclaim and nails that Oscar.
On the flip side of things, this is also down to social and cultural upbringing. My parents are Chinese and moved over to the UK in the early 80’s, as clichéd as it may sound – it’s true that from a young age they wanted me to be either a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer or an accountant (which I almost ended up becoming) their philosophy in life was ingrained into these archaic beliefs that you would have a good, successful life becoming one of these occupations, not that they’re wrong but they need to know that there are other life choices. By the age of 15 I quite clearly was not going to change the world or win a nobel peace prize, lucky enough for me my parents thought the same and supported me in whatever I wanted to do. My point is this, I was lucky enough to have liberal thinking parents, some people aren’t so lucky, creative flare seem to be extinguished by some parents trying to live their dreams through their children encouraging them to work in the traditional money making jobs. For them a career in the arts and media is not a serious job.
The industry itself predominantly relies on freelance workers. My mum asked me the other day “do you plan to get a proper job soon?” – Although she asked jokingly, there is a sense of job insecurity if you’re freelancing and understandably a concern for parents(and even more concern to Asian Parents who realise that it’s pretty hard getting a mortgage if you’re a freelancer). Jobs come and go and work varies from film to film, rarely do the stars align where you come off one show and go to another, there will inevitably be gaps and these are the periods where my parents jokingly again tell me “you should’ve taken that accountant job”….in which I responded “I could of, I might be making loads of money, I might have a house and I might have a flash car but I want to follow my dreams, be happy and see my name in the closing credits in the cinema…that gives me a sense of accomplishments and keeps me going ”. Freelancing is tough, regardless of what background you’re from, you’re going to need support from your parents (be it financially or emotionally), whilst some parent might be tempted to tell the spouse to call it a day, mine have (at most times) encouraged me and supported me through the tough times of unemployment. Whether we like it or not, our parents do shape our future and who we turn out to be – if my parents really pushed me I might very well have become some high flying accountant. To encourage ethnic diversity in the industry, it needs to start from the grass root…the parents.
Change will happen, maybe not in our generation but the one after us will hopefully reap the benefits. This is always a tricky topic, and there really is never one factor but usually a culmination of cultural differences and an industry dominated by the white middle/upper class who are still relying are the same people today as they did 30 years ago to make their films.