Major study of racial inequality in UK Film Industry

University College London

UCL is launching a major £1m research project into the links between racism, racial inequality, diversity and policy in the UK film industry, working closely with the British Film Institute (BFI), the UK’s lead organisation for film and the moving image.

Still from the series Rocks with teenage girls hanging out together

The Colour of Diversity: A Longitudinal Analysis of BFI Diversity Standards Data and Racial Inequality in the UK Film Industry is a three-year research study that will explore the true nature of the presence, representation and experiences of Black and minority ethnic identities within the UK film industry.

Central to the research will be the analysis of the BFI’s Diversity Standards, a major policy initiative launched in 2016 to respond to prevailing sector inequalities and boost diversity and inclusion primarily related to the protected characteristics cited in the 2010 Equality Act. This project, which identifies the film industry as a site of multi-faceted racial inequalities, goes beyond issues of under-representation to explore in depth the experiences of people of colour involved at every stage of the industry, from creatives to funders, from actors to technicians and from the ideas stage to the finished product, including the experience of Black and minority ethnic film audiences.

The longitudinal study will be led by Dr Clive Nwonka (Principal Investigator) incoming lecturer in Film Culture and Society at UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies, and Professor Sarita Malik (Co-Investigator) Professor of Media, Culture and Communications in the Department of Social and Political Sciences, Brunel University London. Both Nwonka and Malik are recognised as two of the UK’s leading academic researchers in the study of race, racism, diversity and Black British and Asian identity in film and television. In addition, the project will be recruiting a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant who will be based at UCL.

Commenting on the study, Dr Nwonka (incoming to UCL Institute of Advanced Studies) said: “Despite nearly three decades of policy initiatives racial inequalities in the screen industry in terms of workforce demographic and on-screen representations of Black and ethnic minority identities remain a significant social problem. What has been missing is a close-up analysis, over time, of how diversity policy that has attempted to respond to racial inequalities is constructed and implemented, and its success, failure and impact.”

The study, totalling nearly £1 million and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), builds on Nwonka’s previous research into racial inequality in the film sector, notably the report Race and Ethnicity in the UK Film Industry: An Analysis of the BFI Diversity Standards in 2020. This data-led sample study, conducted with the support of the BFI, revealed a number of racial inequalities and disparities unaddressed within the BFI’s Diversity Standards framework, particularly relating to the inclusion of Black and ethnic minority women, the presence of racial difference in key on-screen and off-screen roles and positions, and the vast racial inequalities found within regional film production.

The Colour of Diversity will consider the question of race and ethnicity across the variables of film roles, positions, genres, budgets, settings and regions, and how these racial inequalities cut across the intersections of gender, class, sexual orientation, disability and other protected characteristics. In doing so, the study will assist the BFI’s continued policy developments by conducting an independent and external examination of the Diversity Standards, with the BFI providing unique access to the Diversity Standards data in order to deepen understandings of the construction, trends and impacts of agendas towards racial equality within cultural diversity policy.

In addition to the quantitative study of the BFI’s Diversity Standard’s data, the research team will conduct a textual analysis of a large number of films that have adhered to the Diversity Standards from 2016 to determine how their on-screen portrayals of racial and ethnic difference as declared in the Diversity Standards relate to the lived realities of Black and ethnic minority experiences and film cultures in a range of UK settings, regions and communities.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization/author(s)and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.