I was attending the Baftas earlier this month (I realise I sound like a wanker – the sort of wanker who writes a column about the Baftas because he won one) and was asked if I could do a few press interviews after the event. I always get slightly nervous about these. They get sprung on you, and you don’t properly think about what you’re saying, and the next thing you know, you’re being asked by your agent why you told somebody from Heat magazine that you are in favour of child slavery.
I wasn’t prepared for the questions I ended up being asked, and found myself wishing that I had requested some time to think about my responses. Because almost every question was: “What do you think about the fact that this is the most diverse group of winners the awards has ever had?”
My heart sank, partly because I hadn’t noticed, thanks to being masked up, sat in a socially distanced seating bank, and told we shouldn’t go near other guests (I’m totally in favour of these measures, and think it’s great we could have a safe awards, so for god’s sake don’t @ me). It hadn’t occurred to me that this was being logged as some sort of watermark of inclusion.
The fact that this was the way it was being reported was damaging. First, diversity, whether that be ethnic, gender, sexuality or economic, needs to be baked in. The journalists were all asking me if I felt as if progress had been made, and it took all of my restraint not to reply that you can only really call it progress when they no longer feel the need to ask me that bloody question.
This line of questioning undermines the achievement of every winner of colour that night. There is an implication of tokenism; every person of colour who won an award is forced to wonder whether the only reason they won was because of some sort of drive. Sure enough, a tabloid ran a snarky piece about how half the winners were “BAME” (a term that became obsolete within seconds of being coined), with photos of every winner of colour in one place, just so their readers knew who to hate. The comments under the article made for typically depressing reading. People said things such as: “Why aren’t the awards being handed out on merit?” and, “I hope those winners know that the only reason they won is because of their colour.” And so, by shouting loudly about how diverse the awards are, and making that the centrepiece of the narrative, what you actually do is to make people wonder if it’s a manufactured move and, by implication, not actually real.
I am fully in support of television being more diverse, both in front of and behind the camera. And I am fully in favour of addressing inbuilt imbalances that are not always immediately obvious. And we should all be aware that the road to eliminating these issues is a long process that needs to be properly built into the industry from top to bottom.
What is deeply frustrating is the way the “diversity conversation” is constantly made the main event. What would be much more effective, in my opinion, is if these things were prioritised behind the scenes; if proper longstanding action was taken to improve opportunities for everybody, allowing awards, casting and press coverage to be presented without ceremony (pun sort of intended, I guess?), so that this is just how things are. It’s not a drive, it’s not a scheme, it’s how life is now: so deal with it.
Obviously, I didn’t say any of that on the night. I just mumbled some crap about diversity being great and wondered whether making clothes for below minimum wage was at least a way to give kids something to do.