Discrimination in the British Film Industry

“There are no funds available at the moment”



By Rob Ager 2008

In this document I intend to expose the http://www.wvwnews.net/story.php?id=2002 and identify as best I can, who formulates the policy and what their objectives are. Finally, I will offer advice to those who wish to break down this discrimination barrier.

Personal experience no. 1) North West Vision (Liverpool office – 2005)

Having written, produced, funded, directed and edited three independent short films with a total running time of 1hr 22mins, I decided it was time to ease the burden on my own wallet. It was time to apply for external funding for a new project. My immediate point of call in my home town of Liverpool was a company called North West Vision. I phoned their office and spoke to a woman named Helen Bingham, who assured me that there were funds available and that she would like to interview me. So far so good. Upon arriving for interview I was greeted with minimal enthusiasm and got the impression that Helen’s expectations of who I was had been severely disappointed. I presented Helen with a DVD of my previous work plus a rough draft of a script I’d just written.

After glancing at the first page of my script and without viewing the DVD, Helen then told me “There are no funds available at the moment”. I bit the bullet and pointed out her disappointed response upon my arrival, her unwillingness to consider my previous work and her contradictory assurance over the phone that there was funding available for new applicants. I requested an honest explanation. Helen’s reply was short and to the point, “The problem is you’re a young white male and we’ve got enough of that” … her exact words. I then debated with Helen about the racist, sexist and ageist nature of her comment, at which point she explained to me that denying young white males the opportunity to apply for funding was ethically and legally sound because of what she claimed to be a disproportionate representation of ethnic groups in British film.Over the following weeks I spoke to several other local film makers about my experience at NWV and many of them, including some who were from minority ethnic groups themselves, spoke of similar experiences. A friend of mine, Matt Capper, described that he had gone through the complaint procedures at NWV about their discriminatory selection process, but his complaint was simply ignored.

I then visited the NWV website and found that an intense debate had already been raging on their forums on the subject of “positive” discrimination. I joined in the debate by describing my experience with Helen Bingham and told the forum that if they wished to meet me in person we could pay a collective visit to the NWV office to challenge their staff on the issue. After just a few hours the NWV forum was completely shut down. That was in 2005 and to my knowledge it was never re-opened.

Personal experience no. 2) The BBC (Manchester office – 2007)

Having moved home to Manchester, I decided to apply to the BBC for a training position. They had placed an ad on several websites announcing that there were twenty training positions available for people to work at various levels in the BBC. They described that applications were welcome from people who could demonstrate that they had already used their initiative in their own independent film projects. I figured I would stand a decent chance on that basis, and so I phoned for an interview.

A very polite receptionist then asked me for a few details about myself, including my ethnicity. After telling her I was white British born, she told me in a very embarrassed tone that I was not eligible to apply for any of the training posts because they were only open to people of minority ethnicity. I then asked if there were any similar training programmes that a white British born person could apply for. She told me there wasn’t at that point in time and could not specify when one would be available.

Over the following days I made several phone calls back to the Manchester BBC office requesting to speak to whoever had formulated the policy of only training people form ethnic minorities. Eventually I spoke to Belinda Storrs. She was very polite and offered me an interview to discuss what other opportunities could be identified at the BBC for which I could apply. It took several cancellations and rearrangements over the following weeks before the interview actually took place. Belinda and her colleague were very supportive and professional. However, there was only one problem. There were still no training opportunities at the BBC for white British born applicants. The only thing they could offer was to apply for a voluntary position as a runner, but explained that these posts usually go to recently graduated media students. What Belinda and her colleague did was tell me every other organisation I could go to in Manchester … outside of the BBC. I still didn’t get to speak to the manager who had formulated the “no white applicants for training” policy.

The policies and policy makers

The two discrimination experiences I’ve described, plus those described to me by other independent film makers since, have led me to suspect that an anti-white policy is in operation across the British film industry.

To investigate this further I visited several major UK film and television websites and began piecing together a hierarchy of how the British film industry is constructed and who funds it. As it turn out, Northwest Vision receives it’s funding and conditional policies from the Northwest Development Agency or NWDA. The NWDA is one of nine government-sponsored regional development agencies in England.

The NWDA very aggressively emphasises its concerns over diversity and multi-culturalism, to the point where it seems that managers operating under its schemes are assumed to be racist unless they spend incredible amounts of time fulfilling paperwork requirements that suggest otherwise. Have a read of their Racial Equality Scheme documents. They clearly demonstrate that funding of businesses and schemes will go to those who employ the highest number of disabled and ethnic minority workers at all levels of the organisation. Northwest Vision are simply complying with those conditions.

NWV also receives additional support from the UK Film Council. Now here is an organisation worth looking at in detail. The homepage of their website states, “The UK Film Council is the Government-backed lead agency for film in the UK ensuring that the economic, cultural and educational aspects of film are effectively represented at home and abroad.”


There is no mention here of promoting film as an art form, but the menu on the left features a Diversity section, which expands into quite a lengthy selection of info pages. Among these we find a link to what is called the Diversity Toolkit.


Click on this link and you are taken to a separate website solely devoted to the diversity policies of the UK Film Council.


It is here that we can gain an understanding of the “positive” discrimination activities of the British film industry. Under the section called Top Tips For Employers – Recruitment and Selection we find the following statement, “You can use positive action statements in your job advertisements to attract applicants from groups that are under-represented in your company.”


The words “positive action” are linked to a description in the sites Glossary of Terms.


At the bottom of this linked page it is acknowledge that, “Positive discrimination, affirmative action or reverse discrimination, generally means choosing someone solely on the grounds of their gender or racial group, and not on their abilities. Positive discrimination is illegal under UK anti-discrimination law.” Well done UK Film council. So Helen Bingham’s comment to me that “The problem is you’re a young white male and we’ve got enough of that”, would certainly qualify as a discriminatory comment … or does it?

At the top of this same page the following are listed as acceptable “positive action” practice:

* Targeting job training at people of particular racial groups, or either gender, who have been under-represented in certain occupations or grades during the previous 12 months, or encouraging them to apply for such work.

* Providing facilities to meet any specific educational, training or welfare needs identified for a specific racial group.

* Measures to provide training and special encouragement for returners to the labour market after a period of time discharging domestic or family responsibilities.

* Special encouragement such as targeted advertising and recruitment literature, reserving places for one gender on training courses or providing taster courses in non-traditional areas.

Can you see the contradictions? In order to target job training at a particular group, other groups have to be excluded by default. Remember that when I tried to apply for a training position at the BBC I was told that I couldn’t because of my ethnicity, even though the recruitment ads did not state this. Was that “positive action” or “reverse discrimination”? More importantly, is there even a difference?

How about the last recommendation, “Special encouragement such as targeted advertising and recruitment literature, reserving places for one gender on training courses …”? We are expected to believe that it is discrimination to, “choose someone solely on the grounds of their gender or racial group”, but that it’s acceptable to show preference in your advertising for a particular ethnic group … that its acceptable to concentrate your advertising at a particular ethnic group, so that another ethnic groups are less aware of such training opportunities and thus lees likely to apply. We are expected to believe that it’s acceptable to, “reserve places for one gender on training courses”. In actual practice the BBC took this to the level of denying twenty training opportunities to the indigenous white British born people at a time when no other such training programmes were in operation. They don’t just reserve them for gender. They reserve them for race.

I have a different phrase for this kind of policy. It isn’t “positive action”. It is “strategic discrimination”. You could also call it “Diversity Propaganda”. Rather than reject hordes of white British born people during the interview and selection process, which is illegal, the discrimination has been shifted to the advertising and course design stages, where it is less likely to be noticed.

The argument that is used across the board as a justification when people complain about these practices is that certain ethnicities are under-represented in particular industries. This is a tried and tested argument that backs off the critics because it implies that anyone who is against the policy is actually racist toward the “under-represented” group.

According to the UK Film Council website, “The majority of the UK population are white (92%). The remaining 8% (4.6 million people) belong to other ethnic groups.” The site also states that in 2006/07, “People from minority ethnic groups made up only 5% of the film production workforce, below the UK all-sectors average of 7% and well below the London workforce average of 24%.”


So a difference of just 2% is being used to justify the strategic discrimination policies against white British born people in the UK film industry. The data about the London workforce average of 24% has been included by the UK film Council in an attempt to make the gap appear larger, but is contradicted by another statement on the same page, “Production and distribution were concentrated in London and the South East, with 76% and 68.3% of the workforce respectively.” So if the proportion of ethnic minority employees were to be boosted up to comply with the London workforce average of 24% then white British born people would be vastly under-represented on a national level, being that the film industry is mostly London-based. According to proportional representation logic, white people should account for 92% of the film industry workforce for the entire nation, so why is the London workforce average quoted in the UK Film Council’s Diversity Toolkit? The policy makers are distorting the issue as a justification to deny opportunities to white people in the industry.

Let’s take a look at the so-called “positive action” practices and their statistical justifications at another film funding website.


This site is for an organisation called Skillset. Their site states, “Skillset’s Film Skills Fund is the largest fund in the UK dedicated to support Film specific training.” They also run a particular ethnic minority training program, under which the following statement can be found:

“The Graduate Fellowship Program was delivered under clause 37 of the Race Relations Act which allows training organisations to run programmes for people from black and ethnic origin groups which have been demonstrated to be under represented in a particular industry.  Research conducted by Skillset has found that 7% of the workforce of London’s audio visual industries is from black and ethnic minorities, compared to 35% of the overall population of inner London.”

So here we find that strategic discrimination is a legal practice, endorsed by the government. Notice also the difference of proportional statistics. The UK film council cites the proportion of ethnic minority workers in the film industry as 5% in 2006/07, but Skillset claims it to be 7% – just one percent below the proportional representation bar for the entire population of the nation. The UK Film Council cites the London workforce average as being 24% ethnic minority, but Skillset have chosen to cite the ethnic minority proportion of 35% for London as awhole.

To emphasise the selective nature of these statistics let’s go back to the Diversity Toolkit website and their Diversity Snapshot statements.


I bring your attention to the following statement, “The film production workforce is predominantly young, with 84% aged 49 or under. Just 10% of women in this area are aged 50 or over.” What is important is the information that is being left out. Of course the number of women over age 50 in the film industry will be lower than men. State pension eligibilityin the UK is currently age 60 for women, but it’s age 65 for men.

To further your understanding of the age factor, I’d like to direct you to the final section of the UK Film council’s own Statistical Yearbook 2006/07.


On page 168, “Overall, the film and video industry workforce was 33% larger in 2006 than in 1994, against an increase in the overall UK workforce of 13% over the same period.” The huge increase in the workforce size since 1994 is part of the reason for the imbalance of age. How many people over the age of 49 in that period have made the decision to change career and enter the film industry compared to school leavers signing up for media courses? In addition, the availability of digital camcorders and home pc editing software in the last decade, along with greater computer literacy among young people, has naturally meant that younger people are more able to carry out technical roles in the digitized film industry. The age statistics quoted by the UK Film Council are not evidence of ageism. They are the natural byproduct of recent technological change.

Here’s another quote from the same Statistics Yearbook page, “In 2006, 48% of those engaged in film and video production (SIC 9211), a total of 11,716 people, were self-employed”. This reveals other factors that are not acknowledged in the UK Film Council’s diversity policies. Of the 5% ethnic minority portion of the workforce, how many are freelance and how many are direct employees? If all of the ethnic minority workers were direct employees and not freelancers then this would mean that white people are under-represented in the permanent jobs sector of the film industry, but over-represented as freelancers. The statistics also do not tell us exactly how much work these freelancers do in an average year. Some of them may only get a few weeks or months, yet there ethnicity is still statistically used as if they are were had permanent jobs.

Proportional representation is in itself based upon flawed logic. Individual cultures have their own preferences for certain mediums of expression. Here are a variety of examples in other aspects of society where proportional representation of ethnic groups is unequal, yet is not subject to the kind diversity polices found in the UK film industry.