British Asians regret lack of opportunities in the media

Anita Rani (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

by NADEEM BADSHAH

LEADING British Asian actors have backed calls for TV bosses and film directors to hire more ethnic minority performers and writers to tackle the lack of diversity in the industry.

BBC presenter Anita Rani is the latest to highlight discrimination that British Asians face, arguing that “posh white men” are the “default” on programmes.

The Countryfile host fronted a BBC programme about Bollywood last year, but said bosses were less keen when she suggested a follow-up about Hollywood.

She said: “You’d never think to ask a number of posh white men on TV, why did you get to present shows about train travel in India?”

Rani also revealed a recent experience when a white researcher she had worked with said to her: “I’m working on a new project. I’m casting from the Asian community. How do I get in touch with them?”

Comedian Sir Lenny Henry said recently there will never be diversity in British media unless
there are laws to guarantee fair representation and tax breaks for BAME productions,
while Hollywood star Riz Ahmed and Channel 4 newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy have
also raised concerns over the lack of diversity.

Only 2.2 per cent of UK TV is directed by BAME directors, while just one of the top 100 top independent production companies is led by a BAME person.

British actor Armaan Kirmani said there has been a lack of progress in the types of roles that south Asians are getting in dramas and comedy shows.

He told Eastern Eye: “The large problem with comedies representing Asian characters has been stereotypes.

“I feel that the British Asian community is now an integral part of British culture and society, but regrettably TV commissioners are not writing Asian characters beyond their cultural stereotypes.

“This is leading to poor scripts and a fall in quality of comedy programming.

“Personally, in order to prevent this dearth, the solution lies in encouraging more diverse people in entering the writing and commissioning fields.

“Otherwise the content will always be portrayed from the viewpoint of the average white person’s perspective.”

Comedies, including Only Fools and Horses, were the first to cast Asian characters
in the 1980s.

A scene in Only Fools The Musical, being performed in London’s West End, showed the diversity of modern-day Peckham in the capital with characters from BAME backgrounds.

Amar Adatia is an actor who produced his own film called Dangerous Games featuring Calum Best. Adatia, who runs Amarich Productions, told Eastern Eye: “I have had to make my own path in this industry and make my own movies, so I can show my diversity as an actor in different roles as I wasn’t getting any roles over the last few years.

“But this has changed and I feel a lot more roles are readily available for Asian actors, and hopefully a lot more in 2020.”

Dangerous Games has been broadcast on Together TV, available on Freeview channel 89 and Sky channel 194.

In July, the network will show documentaries on LGBT rights in Mumbai and the 2010 murder of bride Anni Dewani in South Africa during her honeymoon.

Together TV said: “We select and air a wide range of factual entertainment content to celebrate diversity, inclusion and inspire people to take action upon social topics and issues that matter to our viewers.”

Balvinder Sopal is an actress, presenter and model currently on tour with a show called Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile. She believes that “until mindsets change at the top, the opportunity to diversify won’t filter through”.

Sopal said: “It is happening, but we are still struggling and growth is stunted. Why is diversity and inclusion continuously deemed as a risk, when the true face of British society is a melting pot of diverse ideas, cultures, accents, thought, class and talent?

“Being British Indian means I belong to two different cultures and they sit side-byside beautifully. This should give me the opportunity to utilise both aspects of my personality and cultures without having to explain one more so than the other.

“What is needed, at all levels, is a genuine openness to these ideas and the ability for new ideas to be taken on board, explored and commissioned.”

Meanwhile, comedian Patrick Monahan has praised Rani for speaking out.

Monahan, whose show Started From The Bottom, Now I’m Here is taking place in August during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, said: “If you listened to BBC radio or TV programmes, you would think the only people that lived in Britain are posh white men and women.

“But the reality is that what makes Britain really great is our impressive diversity of backgrounds of people. I can totally relate to what Anita is saying about the current content of TV.

“I came to the UK as an immigrant with my family as a child from Iran. I have been in countless discussions with the BBC and other channels and production companies about doing shows about immigration.

“But instead the majority – if not all – of speakers and presenters, especially on BBC radio, are all from posh white men and women who are talking about immigration. They have no experience of it except for the pot of hummus they have in the fridge and the Kashmiri carpet they bought one holiday years ago.”

The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) has been campaigning since 2017 for TV productions with more than 50 in their workforce to publish the background of on-screen and off-screen employees.

A BECTU spokeswoman said: “If people from the Asian community were employed at all levels of the broadcasting and TV production companies – including off-screen – then their portrayal on screen would be transformed”.

“What is eventually seen on screen is the result of a long series of decisions, from who commissions the writer, who researches, who writes the script, edits it, shoots it, directs it, designs the costumes,hair and make-up and, of course, who makes the casting decisions.”

A BBC spokeswoman said: “We’re proud that Anita presents some of our most popular programmes including BBC One’s War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita, Countryfile and The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts on BBC Two as well as the BBC’s recent coverage of the
marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

“We have a wider variety of presenters and programmes than any other broadcaster, a
range of initiatives to increase diversity on and off-air, and commission ideas on their merit.”