• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Inc Arts

There are many reasons why arts organisations seek to diversify their staff and creatives, but there’s only one result: exciting, meaningful cultural outputs, says Inc Arts UK.

a man and woman eat takeaway food sat next to a dog staring at the food

Why might a cultural organisation seek to diversify its staff and creatives? Is it to appear diverse? Might it be to be eligible for government funding? Perhaps it’s to encourage diverse audiences through the doors? How about this reason: to create better work.

At the end of last year, research from UCLA showed that ‘TV shows with diverse writers’ rooms and casts resonated with pandemic audiences’. Yes, building a creative team from diverse backgrounds creates work that appeals to – you guessed it – the diverse public. 

The study looked at television viewers in the US and found that ‘among households of all races in 2019–20, the scripted broadcast shows that earned the highest ratings were those in which people of color made up between 31% and 40% of the credited writers’. 

It provides evidence of something that we have known all along, creative diversity isn’t only beneficial to equal rights, it is at the root of equitable work, successful creative outputs and a happy audience.

Public outcry at lack of recognition

Unfortunately, much of the arts and cultural sector – whether television, theatre, art, gaming or film – hasn’t yet discovered the importance of a diverse talent pool. 

As recently as 2020, BAFTA failed to recognise a single ethnically diverse leading actor in its nominations list. Public outcry ensued, leading it to push hard on its EDI strategy and present a much more diverse nominations list for 2021. 

A 2020 study by UCL’s Dr Clive Nwonka revealed that ‘racial under-representation remains a structural condition within the sector, both on and off-screen,’ with ethnically diverse creatives twice as unlikely to get department head and key off-screen roles. 

As a result, Dr Nwonka is developing a 3-year, £1m study into racial inequality in the UK’s film industry. And, of course, let's not forget the public outcry following the Golden Globes snub received by Michaela Cole’s groundbreaking I May Destroy You, whilst less impactful shows such as Emily in Paris received two nominations.

There’s a common thread with these examples: public outcry and media coverage. When ethnically diverse creatives are supported, valued and recognised, it impacts the health of the industry and the quality of what’s on our screens. 

Diversity impacts quality

While these data allow us to recognise the importance of diversity behind the script, the real question is how to get there. The only way to answer this is understanding the specific experiences of creatives from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

That is why Inc Arts is collaborating with the Writers’ Union (WGGB) and the Authors’ Writing and Collecting Society (ALCS) on the Telling our stories survey which centres on the experiences of ethnically diverse scriptwriters across film, gaming, theatre and television. 

This survey will give us important insights that will allow WGGB to effectively lobby on behalf of ethnically diverse scriptwriters, providing evidence from in-depth research and information about the barriers they face.

Carol Russell, our Advocacy Lead explains how “this survey marks a shift in the industry, one that we have not seen before. It is the first time that a survey has centred the experiences of ethnically diverse screenwriters across multiple sectors within the UK. 

“It not only provides a place for screenwriters from ethnically diverse backgrounds to tell of their experiences, but it will provide data that is cohesive, in-depth, and representative of the multitudes of voices that will be surveyed.”

Commitment to care and intersectionality

Crucially, this survey has been created by ethnically diverse people, for ethnically diverse people. This means that it has a commitment to care and intersectionality at its heart. 

We know it’s not easy to revisit negative or painful experiences – especially through the survey format. All survey respondents will be offered access to our free group therapy with Chanua Health.

We’re excited about it because it might finally give insight to producers, directors and trustees of the arts of how the creative talents of ethnically diverse people are diminished by workplace cultures that are neither welcoming nor open. 

As Anand Bhatt, Chair of Inc Arts UK has said, “This survey will encompass the scale necessary to get a full perspective of how ethnically diverse scriptwriters experience their careers and give the industry the groundwork to make an equitable, intersectional future. I urge any scriptwriter from an ethnically diverse background to contribute to this survey.”

You can support this initiative by sharing the survey with your networks and encouraging ethnically diverse scriptwriters to complete it. And don’t forget, if you want to increase the equitability of your workplace, sign up to our anti-racism workplace toolkit Unlock.

This article is part of a series from Inc Arts UK, a national collective that champions the creative, economic and contractual rights of the UK’s African diaspora, Asian diaspora and ethnically diverse workforce in the arts and cultural sector.