Black people are regularly racially stereotyped in TV documentaries and lack editorial control when it comes to the commissioning of “Black programming”, a new report has found.
The report, which was commissioned by the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity at Birmingham City University, examined 275 documentary programmes between April 26th and May 21st 2021.
This came after major broadcasters, such as Sky and the BBC, made public pledges to increase diversity both in front of, and behind the camera, after the protests at the murder of George Floyd.
The report, titled ‘Black In Fact – Beyond The White Gaze’, was helmed by the documentary maker Cherish Oteka. The new study found that race and racism were the primary topics when a documentary featured Black people, followed by crime in second place, and music in third. Of this damning indictment of the state of diversity on UK TV, the report said: “The representation of Black people is not varied or nuanced enough”.
Black professionals who work on documentaries expressed concern that when commissioning “Black programming”, white programmers are driven by their own interest and not for the good of the Black community. The professionals interviewed believe the issue is exacerbated by the lack of career options for Black media workers. They say there is a distinct need for career progression into positions of commissioning power and editorial control.
The report doesn’t end there, either. Shockingly, it states that Black documentary filmmakers often have to protest against the stereotypical representations of Black people on projects and that Black people are often pigeonholed, given no choice but to talk about race. The research states elsewhere that black production company owners are also not given the same opportunities as non-Black owners.
Maxine Watson, an executive producer and former BBC commissioner, contributed some words on Black representation in the industry. She said: “When TV talks about a ‘broad audience’ they are really talking about the broad white audience. So that means making sure niche or targeted subjects are done in a way that will appeal to that audience.”
She explained: “It’s easy for people to deal with tropes about particular groups of people because that’s what the media does. They believe the audience will understand crime and the urban music scene or sport and racism. It’s not that you shouldn’t cover those subjects but there’s nuance and there’s subtlety in all of it that is often missed and more than that there are so many untold stories that don’t fall into those tropes we should be looking at.”
Patrick Younge, the brother of acclaimed journalist Gary, who is the co-founder and director of Cardiff Productions, said: “You can put Black people on soap operas or a Black person on the panel of every panel show, the numbers can rise really easily, it’s not hard at all. But whose story are they telling and from what perspective? That hasn’t really changed.”
Clearly, we still have a young way to go when it comes to diversity in all areas of the UK.