The Fairy Princess needs some sleep. Seriously, between the time zones and demands for this or that to be put on tape, she is too tired to function and well, to say she is needing some intervention…
would be putting it mildly.
The Fairy Princess is mainly exhausted because her 2 year old has discovered that he can climb, and at less than a moments notice she has to pull him from the top of a table or a piano or a flight of stairs – you understand, he’s a maniac, maniac on the floor – or the stairs, or the hallway, or…you get the idea.
However she came across a letter written by the BBC explaining why they cannot have a more diverse television palette in the UK, which she found shocking because here in the US of A, our television Networks continue to make great strides in their commitment to Diversity – particularly, it should be noted, the aptly named ABC (American Broadcast Company).
American Networks, though not ‘even Steven‘ integrated ’tis true, are hosting shows that reflect a broad range of experiences, families, and most importantly, diverse faces. In short – our televisions are slowly but surely starting to ‘reflect the American scene‘ as required in production contracts.
Why is why she felt a bit flummoxed upon reading the response from the BBC – and while she is NOT in the UK, she felt she should let some support to the British East Asian Artists who are having to deal with some outrageous Public school prats who live in the proverbial bubble and never deign to step outside their world, lest they have to deal with the riff raff.
Which would be me.
Not that they perhaps, know who I am, but um….The Royal Shakespeare Company and the English National Opera do, so if the BBC has questions, they can ring up an old chum from the Academy and have a chat.
The beginning of the story is, a letter was written to the BBC by a British East Asian Actress named Bess Chan
She asked the BBC why in America, Asian Americans are viewed as Americans, but why in the UK, Asians are viewed as “Foreigners’ and vastly underrepresented in a variety of roles.
(I have to interject that we fight that same battle in the USA every day, but we do have several examples of Asian Americans on the small screen who do not play ‘foreigners’, in terms of representation, we are light years ahead of the UK)
The BBC wrote back to Ms. Chan. Their letter is exceedingly long winded, and as a real Queen once said…
So The Fairy Princess is going to break it down, the BBC’s reasoning for accepting public funds but refusing to represent the public.
1. They are ‘too big’ to demand diversity from themselves.
“…we are a much larger, much more complex and massively more separated multimedia broadcaster with many different and separate departments and divisions, as opposed to one all-encompassing department which oversees absolutely everything.”
2. They believe demanding Diversity would limit the freedom to ignore people of color
“Some…believe that we as a publicly funded public service broadcaster should be subject to formal quotas on diversity, but the the reality is that this cannot happen as it would be contrary to the Equality Act….television must be able to maintain artistic choice and discretion in what they do’
3. They believe that hiring few actors of color is because they hire the best actors available
“The actors hired are employed on the basis of their judged suitability for the role…this includes things like ethnicity…but that’s not to say there is any bias against or in favor of any group of society in terms of television drama productions…what we couldn’t do is simply shoehorn a British East Asian family …in for no reason or relevance…that would equate to…’positive discrimination’…’
4. They believe that writers are immune from having discrimination, and they cannot force them to write about people they do not want to
“There is absolutely no discrimination by writers and producers against any section of society….it’s simply about characters, relevance….questions would be is there a sizeable British East Asian population/presence/culture in the type of area (it) is mean to reflect?….a medium like television does have to allow programme makers withe ability to have a very wide choice based upon the dramatic and artistic requirements upon them.”
5. They are not ‘The Boss of Everyone”aka “There are none”
“…put simply we ourselves cannot create British East Asian Actors, we have to rely on schools, colleges, drama clubs…the theatre and so on to identify, train and nurture young talent, which then feeds through…The BBC does not oversee or govern such things itself, no should we, as it is not our role to create actors…”
6. They have ‘initiatives’ that are just not working, but that’s not really their fault
“But what we can do and do do is work with many different partners across the country and support emerging talent to come forward, is to encourage applications and approaches from…groups which might be under-represented’.
And then they list each and every British East Asian Actor who has EVER, and I mean EVER, appeared on the BBC.
Ok, BBC, The Fairy Princess has heard your reasoning and….well….Victoria, you want to ‘take’ this one?
First off, the BBC is unaware of the ethnic population of London, London is fairly diverse.
(40% BlackAsianMinorityEthnicity – BAME)
As the yellow, pink, and blue dots represent People of Color in London, it is interesting to note that those colors appear in every neighborhood – some more or some less, but they do appear. Which means anyone who works at the BBC knows someone of color, it would be mathematically impossible given the density of diversity in London to live a life without a person of color in it.
Unless you live in a palace. Which, some do. It is London.
Let’s see, do people who live in a palace know people of color?
Prince Charles with Will.I.am
The Royals with Bollywood Actress Kajol, Nita Ambani, Mukesh Ambani & Ajay Devgan
The Royals with President Tan, of Singapore and his wife, Mary.
HRH’s Wills & Harry with Kanye West & Sean Combs
The Royals in Tuvalu
I guess they do.
Even people who USED to live in a palace know people of color
Sarah Ferguson & Naomi Campbell
Just so we all understand one another, the Royals extended social circle has more diversity than the BBC.
The BBC, just like the Royals, receives funding from The Public. However, in the Royals case, they do their best to be ambassadors for Britain the world over and meet people from any and every social strata, the BBC….not so much.
How can one live and work in London, walk around, talk to people – people of color – all day, and then shut out their existence from your place of work? A place which, incidentally, is supposed to represent them? The denizens of the BBC live and work in London, mainly, and yet, they apparently do not ‘see’ BAME people. Remarkable.
The Fairy Princess read with interest the letter from the BBC, and marveled at the hubris and pomposity with which a self admitted “…massively separated multimedia broadcaster’ deigned to address the issue of diversity, she read it over and over again – even out loud with a posh accent – in order to better formulate her thoughts on the matter.
Are you ready, BBC?
First off – when one IS a ….what was that self described term again? Oh right, “Massively separated multimedia broadcaster‘ it essentially means one is a corporation. What is a corporation?
A corporation is a separate legal entity that has been incorporated either directly through legislation or through a registration process established by law. Incorporated entities have legal rights and liabilities that are distinct from their employees and shareholders,
Corporations are (to The Fairy Princess’s horror) able to be treated legally as individuals. They can be guilty of human rights violations, they can be convicted of offenses in a court of law, the only thing they are not considered is a breathing human. A Corporation is, in theory, owned and controlled by it’s stockholders, under the supervision of appointed peoples.
The BBC is a corporation, independent from direct government intervention, with its activities being overseen by the BBC Trust.
The BBC is a a public service broadcasting statutory corporation – and it operates under a Royal Charter. (Which, actually, can be revoked – will never happen, but it can, in theory). It’s main responsibility is to provide impartial public service broadcasting in the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Mann. It’s work is funded by an annual licensing fee, which is awarded by Parliament and is charged to all British households – it is charged, in fact, to anyone who watches television in the UK on any type of equipment that receives broadcast signals.
In short – taxes. Taxpayers are the BBC’s stockholders.
The BBC does have many channels, and they all have their ‘thing’, some are Arts based, or Sports, or News – but they all fall under the giant BBC umbrella – even if they are BBC4 and not BBC3, even if BBC2 has a complex about being the second channel and therefore not as loved – they are all in the same family.
In 2007, the BBC Trust was formed, and they, 12 Trustees appointed by Monarchs, set the strategy for the Corporation. The whole thing. All of it’s multi-media-ness. BBC Channel ad infinitum – all under the Trust. And what is the Trust supposed to do? It’s stated aim is to make decisions in the best interests of those who pay the licensing fees.
The taxpayers. The Trust is supposed to watch out for the taxpayers and see that they are best served. How can one best serve the taxpayers on the small screen?
They can have people on the small screen who look like the people who are watching it.
In response to the first point in their letter, The Fairy Princess wanted to point out that, actually, you CAN require more Diversity because ultimately, you are headed up by 12 individual people who hang with The Royals.
No, David Beckham is not a Trustee of the BBC – but he TOTALLY COULD BE if he plays his cards right
The BBC is not an amorphous matrix of broadcasting, it is simply a Corporation where 12 individuals set policy and then they allow minions to run and do work for them. There are, of course, existing policies and different levels within this corporate structure – but…it’s not MI-5 or 6.
It is not an ‘I’d tell you but then I would have to kill you‘ scenario. It’s television.
You CAN actually know what other departments and associated productions are doing because at some point during a Trustee meeting, it has to pass by 12 individuals. According to the way it is set up by Royal Charter.
Therefore to that first point, which is really –we can’t know what we are doing because we are too damn big to know….
The Fairy Princess replies:
The second point in their response, is that to require Diversity would violate The Equality Act.
The Equality Act is England’s Anti-discrimination law designed to protect people from discrimination based on race, creed, color, sexual preference, sexual harassment and so forth.
However, by citing The Equality Act as a response, the BBC has actually weakened it’s ‘case’ because The Equality Act is supposed to guarantee equal access in employment. Equal access to everyone and everywhere within their entity – and that includes on the screen, writing for the screen, and producing.
Monitoring being what it is, in our ‘Big Brother’ society, it should be easy to pull the records – how many pitch meetings for writers who are BAME? How many BAMEs cast on a show set in London? How many produced shows by BAME producers on your Network?
The Fairy Princess is Asian, and horrible at math, but even she can see that this response does not add up.
Perhaps before citing The Equality Act, you should have looked at their list of current productions.
Numbers do not lie.
If the BEA are not being given equal amounts of auditions as their Caucasian counterparts, then already, the BBC is in violation of The Equality Act. Therefore in order to fulfill the requirements cited by The Equality Act, they should instigate some sort of Diversity program to get more People of Color on their small screens.
Taking steps to ensure equality is not a violation of The Equality Act.
It’s making sure that The Equality Act cannot NOT work.
The rest of their points – they cannot talk to their poor, overly sensitive writers?
Let me tell you about writers – they will write just about anything if they think it is going to sell. Therefore when hearing pitches for new shows, or showing them numbers from their existing shows, perhaps it is best to cite numbers from American shows that are diverse in order to show them that DIVERSITY SELLS.
And no, you do not always have to ‘write what you know’ personally – you can make stuff up and have it be fantastic and magical and include Diversity, oh British TV Writers.
The more diverse the cast is, the better it does – and if they do not believe you, hand them this article from the USA’s National Public Radio.
The BBC believes that they have already hired the best actors around?
Well…not really – BAME Actors are fleeing to the USA in fairly large numbers because of the opportunities to be seen as something more than ‘foreign’ in the UK.
Opportunities to headline a Broadway show perhaps?
Or did you not know that Sophie Okonedo won a TONY last week for her role in “A RAISIN IN THE SUN” on Broadway?
What did Lenny Henry say again?
“….Since 2006 -2012 the number of BAMEs working in the UK TV industry has declined by 30.9%”
Diversity is, as Diversity does.
Lastly, while I do not have exact numbers from British Equity on the number of Union members who self identify as BAE, The Fairy Princess is confident that there are Conservatory graduates and dwellers of the leading British theater companies who are British East Asian. They are on your stages RIGHT NOW!
Gemma Chan & David Yip in DHH’s YELLOWFACE, re-opening in May 2014
Why, there is even a whole Facebook page devoted to British East Asians, called – wait for it –
British East Asian Artists
– so the answer that you are waiting for BAE’s to pop out of conservatories like Dame Edna out of a corset is ludicrous. There are many, and they have been on the stage and all sorts of screens, and by even talking that way it only shows you have not practiced your due diligence when responding with that wretched letter.
Come ON my BBC Possums!
You are probably feeling a bit knocked around now, bit bruised by now BBC? Aren’t you?
Listen BBC – there are, yes, a few British East Asians that have appeared on your network – some in groundbreaking shows, some in good roles, but they are few and far between. The fact that you can list them in one paragraph in a letter should show you right there that you are aware that this is an issue.
Besides, when did having a few Caucasians on your networks prevent you from hiring more Caucasians?
The answer to that is never.
Having Caucasians on the screen has never been an obstacle against having more. And all things being EQUAL…..having a few BEA Artists on television shows of the past should not prevent you from having more in the future. British East Asians have been in England for the last few hundred years.They have been part of the fabric of the UK, because you are a seafaring nation.
Or have we forgotten The Opium Wars?
Chinese people have been visiting England since the 17th Century!
This is the first one – he was a friend of the King James the Second.
Shen Fu-Tsung was the first ever recorded ethnic Chinese person to set foot in what is now the United Kingdom, having visited over 300 years ago in 1685
Which means that in any period drama, there could be one. Or two. The Fairy Princess does not wish to limit you, but to cite historical accuracy or population numbers as a reason that there are not enough BAEs on television is a diversion.
It is time, BBC, to acknowledge that you are trying to run what we in the States call a ‘shell game’ with that letter. You want us to look here, when the truth is there, meanwhile you have been hiding it all along and it never was a possibility to win in the first place.
You are the BBC! You exist by Royal Charter! You are supposed to be gracious!
You know what would have been a better answer?
I will write it for you:
Dear Ms. Chan,
Thank you for your letter. We at the BBC do understand that the UK is changing and we exist to serve our various communities and our population as a whole, as per our Royal Charter. The numbers you state and the questions you ask are ones we are grappling with ourselves, and we do understand your frustration.
We do have a plan to introduce more Diversity on our screens, or rather encourage it, by having workshops, panels, and showcases of underrepresented talent for our writers, producers, and show runners. We are also setting up Diversity departments that will have regular meetings with Casting Directors, to encourage them to broaden their scope when looking for an actor to fill the role. While the BBC cannot control anything on the Agency sides – meaning the Talent Agents that submit their clients to our Casting Directors, as part of our public service, we will invite, to these showcases, Agents from the top UK Agencies, in hopes that they may add someone found at our showcases to their roster.
Our Diversity Department will also be responsible for meeting with each showrunner and asking for their Diversity numbers from past seasons, and requiring that they examine the demographic for the area in which the show is set, and try and remember that when casting.
This is not going to be a quick process, because we do, at the BBC encourage Artistic License, however we are aware that this is an issue that is ongoing, and we are going to push for our screens to represent our population as much as possible. It may not be ‘every’ show, but within the next year, we hope to see a huge rise in the number of, at least, guest starring and supporting roles that are BAME, with of course an ultimate goal of series regulars who are BAME Actors, to better serve our country.
Thank you for your letter and allowing us to respond, we appreciate that we exist by public support.
That would have been a better answer BBC – and look, The Fairy Princess has actually shared with you the way American television has made their screens more diverse!
That’s the way it worked – with mission statements, by coordinating casting, production, executives, and writers, by having showcases…all of these things worked, and now our small screens look more like America.
Don’t you want your small screens to look more like the UK?
Take a look at our Networks – because they too, are corporations, but they look a bit more like….
Some of the Cast of “Madame Secretary”
The Cast of SCANDAL
They look like America.
Come ON BBC! Do Better!
Because BAME Artists are not going silently into ANY dark night, and as for me?