News

Zoom on Up – Bectu activists renew fight to increase diversity in creative industries

16 October 2020

As Bectu marks Black History Month, this article highlights the ground-breaking work by  union activists to tackle systemic racism and reduce glaring underrepresentation in the creative industries.

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Despite the barriers created by COVID-19, there has been a phenomenal response from Bectu branches to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Bectu equality and diversity officer Janice Turners says: “An unprecedented surge of people have come forward wanting to take action for race equality in the creative industries.

“We have been approached and are working with a number of external organisations wanting to end under-representation in the sector – watch this space for more on that.

“But I’m also blown away by the enthusiasm and determination of our activists who are taking practical action to end systemic racism. Their inventiveness has really come to the fore despite the obstacles created by coronavirus and lockdown measures.”

Here we report on how four branches have seized the initiative. Others wishing to take action can email Janice at jturner@bectu.org.uk.

From Move on Up to Zoom on Up

Lack of contacts and not being in the right networks are key barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers in film and broadcasting, in an industry where “who you know” seems to be as important as what you know.

Bectu has been working to address this for many years, and one way was to hold Move on Up events bringing BAME professionals together with engagers.

Over 12 years, 6,000 meetings were held between 2,000 BAME professionals and 800 executives from across television, film, radio and news. People went on to gain jobs, programme commissions and other opportunities as a result.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, branches decided to adapt the Move on Up model for the COVID-19 era, by creating online Zoom on Up events.

Costume and Wardrobe success

First off the blocks was Costume and Wardrobe branch. Following her election to Bectu’s black members committee, Rianna Charles and fellow equality and diversity rep Sarah Dutton invited mentors and mentees to a Zoom video call.

They used the breakout room function to pair people for 20-minute one-to-one meetings.  It was held in three sessions over three days.

Through branch emails and social media, designers and supervisors from all walks of life were invited to sign up as mentors.

Zoom on Up was open to BAME mentees at every grade of the costume department – or people trying to get into the industry – who would benefit from networking with a costume designer or supervisor.

This resulted in 180 one-to-ones, with an amazing line-up of 60 designers and supervisors.

One participant said afterwards: “Giving people from a BAME background an opportunity to meet experienced professionals is really good to expand our networks and hopefully help us progress in our career!”

Another stated: “I got so much confidence from sharing my ideas with people who had carved out the time to engage with me and the work I create.

“This was an invaluable and unique experience that I think should be replicated across the whole industry!”

Camera branch event

In January, during BSC Expo and shortly before the UK went into lockdown, Camera branch ran face-to-face Move on Up sessions, introducing BAME camera people and women – who in camera are also in a minority – to cinematographers and some focus pullers, to enable everyone to make new contacts. This was helped by those who hire camera crews being in the same union branch as the under-represented groups.

With face-to-face meetings out of the question during lockdown, black members’ committee chair Faisal Qureshi recognised the possibility of arranging a Zoom on Up for Camera branch members.

On the day, 160 people logged on, and several BAME camera people came forward afterwards. A discussion resulted in a proposal to try to help the British Society of Cinematographers to become more diverse.

Tunji Akinsehinwa, who worked on the event with Camera branch’s diversity and inclusion committee chair Catherine Goldschmidt, says: “It is both encouraging and inspiring to see how the branches have been proactive in tackling racism in the workplace by promoting diversity and inclusion within their respective departments.

“As the camera department has very few women as well as few minority ethnic workers, we ran the event for both groups and were delighted to achieve almost 50-50 representation.”

The event featured top cinematographers like Fabien Wagner (Game of Thrones),  Adriano Goldman (The Crown) and Kate Reid (Hanna, Marcella and The Press).

Hair and Make-up skills challenge

Hair and Make-up branch diversity committee co-chair Nabeel Hussain then organised a Zoom on Up for this group of members. He says: “The feedback was wonderful, from designers and make-up artists alike.

“At the end, almost all the designers and supervisors gave written consent to allow their details to be shared so more participants could contact them. That has increased the effectiveness of the event even more.”

Bectu official Polly Avison adds: “It was a really positive programme. I’m really glad that so much time was committed to it. We made 98 connections between designers and makeup artists.

“It definitely had a tangible positive effect on the careers of people involved. We must commend the designers who got involved as well, committed their time and committed to diversifying their teams.

“It’s what we need to see across the whole union but also the hair and makeup area. The skills of Black, Asian and minority ethnic hair and makeup artists tend to be more diverse than many of the other artists. These skills are really lacking within the industry at the moment.

“We are working with Equity to find a way to expand the skills of those working in the industry. We are also talking to training providers to ensure it’s in the core curriculum of the syllabuses.”

Post production support

Most recently Bectu’s Post-production and Facilities branch held an event entitled Render, devoted to post-picture rather than sound.

For people working in post-production sound, a simple practical advice scheme has been launched at UK Post Sound Collective. More than 100 of the UK’s best post-sound professionals are offering a half-hour chat to people from under-represented groups interested in a career in sound editing or sound mixing for TV and feature films.

Steve Little, post-production sound rep on the branch committee, says the scheme enables people to choose who they speak to. “What I don’t like about mentoring schemes is if you’re put with someone you don’t like you’re stuck with them. So here people are able to talk to five or six people for half an hour each.”

The branch has also conducted a diversity survey. Committee member Christopher Chow says it shows that the main areas the industry needs to look at are gender, ethnic diversity and socio-economic issues – degrees are now being requested by facilities, even for runner positions.