British Film Institute Says “Change Is Too Slow” As It Unveils Three-Year Diversity Study


UK funding body the British Film Institute (BFI) has published a study on how its ‘Diversity Standards’, the guidelines introduced in 2016 to improve diversity in film production, engaged with representation in 235 movies across a three-year period.

The disclosed data is complex to draw concise conclusions from, but the org said the topline is that productions applying are showing a commitment to improving inclusion, but ultimately there is a long way to go, and that progress is not fast enough at this stage.

“From this report, and what we hear from industry, we can see the Standards are having a positive impact on representation both on screen and behind the camera, particularly when they are used early in pre-production. However, it also shows us where change is too slow and that there is more work to be done,” said Ben Roberts, who will soon be stepping up to the role of BFI CEO as incumbent Amanda Nevill departs.

“As well as identifying some key immediate next steps, these findings form the basis of our review in 2020 to see what targeted action we can take to see broader adoption of the Standards across the full breadth of the industry,” Roberts added.

The Standards cover diversity in a number of ways, including gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, age and pregnancy and maternity, and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

However, one of the issues with drawing from the data is that producers are able to engage with specific parts of the Standards, rather than disclose the full picture of diversity on their productions.

They were initially introduced just to cover films financially supported by the BFI, which accounts for 65 of the analyzed projects, but were also subsequently adopted by Film4, BBC Films, and Paramount’s UK arm, as well as awards bodies BAFTA (for its Brit film categories) and BIFA, which account for the remaining 170.

To qualify for funding, a project needs to meet minimum criteria in at least two of four areas, which boil down to: on-screen representation (classified as A); inclusivity in key crew (B); access to opportunity for underrepresented groups across the wider production (C); and appealing to underserved audiences (D).

Currently, Standard C (industry access and opportunities) is mandatory for all applicants as it is viewed as the key way to improve long-term diversity on productions, and producers must then meet either A, B, or D as well (there is an exception for features applying to the BAFTA and BIFA awards, but the plan is to change that this year).

Today’s study, which covers films backed in the period June 2016 to March 2019, reveals that 86% of projects are qualifying through Standard A; 74% through C; and 67% through B. However, just 25% are meeting D, the audience-focused initiative – the BFI said this stat is reflective of the fact that producers apply at pre-production stage and are thus less focused on distribution and exhibition.

When you drill further down into the numbers, there is some revealing data to be found.

Across all of the standards, the dominant way that these productions are qualifying is through gender: In A it’s 63%, B is 71%, and C is 54%.

The comparable stats for race and ethnicity are A (50%), B (40%), and C (27%) – the latter figure suggests there is significant work to be done with diversity of ethnicity across wider film crews.

Socioeconomic status is high for A (41%) but barely registers for B (3%) and C (7%) – that suggests that while people from poorer backgrounds are being represented to an extent on screen, behind the camera it’s a very different story.

The BFI noted in a statement that “apart from gender, there is a comparatively low proportion of applicants engaging with Standards B and C from underrepresented backgrounds” and that “the percentages of films – ranging from 0-7% – engaging with Standard B and C in terms of socioeconomic background, disability and gender identity are particularly low.”

It’s also worth remembering that there are many more productions made on UK shores and the Standards don’t cover all of those – the BFI is now calling for all producers working here to adopt the Standards by 2022.

The org also said it will consult with industry this year to work on improving these stats. It is also planning to increase data collection, and to launch a new, more user-friendly applications system.

“The levels of data also suggest low declaration rates, with some protected characteristics being consistently low, which is often a result of lack of trust and fear of discrimination among crew. This report underlines what we hear from industry that many lack the systems or capacity to collect data, so the BFI is exploring how to effectively collect self-declared diversity data for cast and crew on all UK film productions,” the BFI added.

It will also support BAFTA and BIFA to make the Standard C mandatory for all films applying for their awards, which will necessitate that producers consider the Standards when recruiting crew if they are to be eligible for awards further down the line.

Diversity remains one of the hot-button topics in the industry and the frustration around the lack of improvement has been palpable in recent months.

This year’s BAFTA nominations, which featured no non-white actors or female directors, sparked a #BaftasSoWhite backlash and prompted the awards body to promise a thorough review into its voting procedure. This year’s Oscar nominations were also criticized for lacking diversity.

While awards bodies such as BAFTA have taken a degree of accountability for the problem, fingers are often still pointed at production as many cite a lack of opportunities for diverse talent.

You can view the BFI’s full study here.

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