EXCLUSIVE: A trio of Black Hollyoaks actors have spoken out about the “systemic racism” that exists at producer Lime Pictures and the TV industry in general following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In a special episode of the Channel 4 soap’s Don’t Filter Feelings podcast, actors Richard Blackwood (Felix Westwood), Talia Grant (Brooke Hathaway), Trevor A Toussaint (Walter Deveraux) shared their experiences of racism and reflections on working in the business.
“Systemic racism exists in all stratas of society, and television is no exception to that. Lime, who I work for, is no exception to this,” Toussaint said. The actor noted that there is not one person of color in a position of authority at Lime, while he added that he has only worked with two Black directors since joining the show in 2018, and not a single Black producer.
“What is Lime getting wrong? They’re getting a lot of things right, but what are they getting wrong so that people of color do not feel they can apply to Lime for work? What is it that keeps those people out and when they are in, what is it that stops them from going up the ranks?” Toussaint asked.
His comments follow similar concerns voiced by fellow cast member Rachel Adedeji last month. Adedeji raised questions about the treatment of Black actors on the show, claiming that she was told “you’re all the same” by a makeup artist on Hollyoaks, while she also said they were referred to as “blackies” by a senior figure in the production team.
Lime is investigating the matter and has promised to address specific concerns. The All3Media-owned production outfit has also pledged to work with unconscious bias trainers, offer mentoring to BAME members of staff, and review its writer and director schemes to improve diversity.
On the Don’t Filter Feelings podcast, Grant raised concerns about industry tokenism. “It’s amazing that there is a black cast and there’s all of us and there is that diversity, but I can’t help but feel that sometimes in the industry and life in general, they treat Black people like we’re disposable. They can capitalize off us without doing the real work behind the scenes,” the 18-year-old said. “The revolution will not be changed by diversity training or racism training. It will be changed by people changing their attitude, and the way the structural system works.”
Grant quoted veteran civil rights activist Angela Davis, who said: “I have a hard time accepting diversity as a synonym for justice. Diversity is a corporate strategy. It’s a strategy designed to ensure that the institution functions in the same way that it functioned before, except now that you now have some Black faces and brown faces. It’s a difference that doesn’t make a difference.”
Reflecting on the honesty of Hollyoaks’ cast members, Blackwood, who hosted the podcast, said: “We are in the system trying to change it. We can’t go in guns blazing but we are firing shots.” He added that the podcast was not about “playing clean up” following Adedeji’s intervention, and was conceived before her comments. “We’re doing this to effect change,” he explained.
In response to the Don’t Filter Feelings podcast, a Lime Pictures spokeswoman said: “Hollyoaks celebrates inclusivity on-screen and off; whilst we believe that is evident on screen, we recognise that we need to do more to increase and support inclusivity behind the camera, especially for black writers, directors and crew.
“We have significantly increased the number of writers of colour working on Hollyoaks, but we need to do more to support black writers in particular. We strive to overcome the significant barriers that black people face within our industry and through the New Writing North Hollyoaks Award, the Lime Interns Scheme, the Channel 4 Production Trainee Scheme and Lime’s own Networking and Workshop events we support up and coming TV talent with entry-level opportunities on Hollyoaks.
“We need to broaden and amplify these schemes to encourage and support new entrants from black backgrounds in particular and to nurture black creative talent at all levels within Lime. Lime’s Liverpool site has been integral in providing vital regional employment and will continue to do that together with endeavouring to be more representative and inclusive both behind the camera at Hollyoaks and at Lime Pictures across the board.”