Thanks for such a warm welcome. I could almost feel at home… In fact we’re not far from where I grew up in East London, but as a young man, I never thought I’d come here. In fact as an older man, I never thought I’d come here. But Oona invited me to speak here today. You know what she's like, she's a bit obsessed with diversity. I told her to get out more, & stop watching TV. Thing is, when you get out more, you see there's a disconnect between the real world & TV world. People in the TV world often aren't the same as people in the real world. And there’s an even bigger gap between people who make TV, and people who watch TV. I should know, I live in the TV world. And although there's a lot of reality TV, TV hasn't caught up with reality. Change is coming, but it's taking its sweet time.
1. Because the TV world helps SHAPE the real world. It’s also a window on our world. But when we look out the window, none of us live in Downton Abbey.
2. Because the creative industries are the foundation of Britain's future economy.
You guys want to safeguard Britain's economy, right? That's your job?
3. If you want to safeguard the economy, you have to safeguard the
Creative Industries; and they rely on TALENT.
Talent is our lifeblood - we can't afford to WASTE it, or give it away.
But when you don't reflect the real world, too much talent is trashed.
Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn't.
And talent can’t reach opportunity.
Especially on our small island – that’s why British talent gets exported all over the world.
We haven’t done enough to nurture our diverse talent.
But before I go any further I want to say something really important:
I'm not here to talk about black people;
I’m here to talk about diversity.
Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour.
- it’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and - most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought.
Because if you have genuine diversity of thought among people making TV & film, then you won’t accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned.
Anyway, on the whole, I don’t think of myself as just a ‘black actor’. I’m an actor, not a number. Just like anyone else. (...)
None of us are just one flavour or one colour. If we were, we’d be one- dimensional.
And that’s what used to drive me mad as an up and coming actor.
My agent and I, we’d get scripts and we were always asked to read the
“black male” character. Or “the athletic type.”
And that was just Crimewatch…
But when a script called for a “black male”, it wasn’t describing a
character. It was a describing a skin colour.
A white man - or a caucasian - was described as “a man with a twinkle in his eye”.
My eyes may be dark, but they definitely twinkle! (Ask the Mrs…) And I was like “I wanna play the character with a twinkle in his eyes!”
So I got to a certain point in my career, and I saw that glass ceiling;
I was very close to hitting my forehead on it.
I was busy, I was getting lots of work, but I realised I could only play so many “best friends” or “gang leaders”.
I knew I wasn’t going to land a lead role.
I knew there wasn’t enough imagination in the industry for me to be
seen as a lead. (...)
What all this taught me, is too often people get locked inside boxes.
And it’s not a great place to be.
Ask women, they’ll say the same thing. Or disabled people. Or gay
people. Or any number of under-represented groups.
So today I’m asking the TV & film industry to think outside the box, and to GET outside the box.
This isn’t a speech about race, this is a speech about imagination.
Diversity of thought.
Thankfully in our country, we’re free to say what we want.
But we’re not as free as we think, because our imagination isn’t that free.
We can’t help putting people inside boxes, it’s a national pastime…
Funny thing is, it’s not good for the people locked in the box;
but it’s also not good for the people deciding what’s ON the box.
Audiences don’t want to see caricatures
Because the point about a caricature is this: you’ve seen it all before.
So I want our incredibly creative and successful TV industry to be
more imaginative with the cultural exports we send around the world. (...)
I agreed to speak in Parliament today, because I want to highlight the important discussion taking place tomorrow
The CEOs of Channel 4, ITV, and the BBC, are just some of those
industry leaders meeting to discuss diversity.
And Channel 4’s research for the conference is really interesting.
The headline finding is that British TV is awash with low-level sexism.
The interesting comparison, is that the same figure for low-level racism
was only a tenth of that.
This means women on TV are 10 times more likely to be treated
negatively than black people on TV.
That’s crazy, right?
I’m not saying you expect black people to be treated worse than
women (although God help black women)
But as Viola Davies said last year when she became the first-ever black woman to win an Emmy for drama,
“you can’t win an Emmy for a role that’s never been written.”
That’s why we need more imagination from our directors, our
producers, our casting directors, our writers - especially our writers. So I’m just saying we need to be more aware. (...)
Nelson Mandela said “anything difficult always seems impossible until it’s done.”
But the good news is, we’re not trying to put a man on the moon.
We’re just trying to redesign the face of British TV.
And because British TV helps shape our world, and is the window
onto our world, this is a debate for everyone.
And yes, let’s make our cultural empire even more successful than our
I'll leave you with this thought:
I don't want to give away any spoilers, but in the new Star Wars film, isn't it amazing the princess grows up to be a General??!
Seriously: let that sink in: the princess grows up to be a General!
That's all I'm asking for:
- some proper imagination,
- untold stories
- the road less travelled
Let's think outside the box. In fact let's smash the box.
Given we're in London let's "MASH the box." G'wan, mash it up!
Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, officers of the Empire, and any
Thank you for listening!
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- speech excerpts via Channel4; speech on YouTube: LISTEN
- photographs via and via and via