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A letter from Ben Roberts, BFI Chief Executive

Wed 17th Jun 2020

A letter from Ben Roberts, BFI Chief Executive

In the weeks since the murder of George Floyd, I’ve talked to many colleagues across the BFI about the need to address systemic racism, and tackle our own institutional failings.

At the BFI, we are united against racism but we have not been actively antiracist. We know there are some longstanding and endemic issues within the organisation which can harm people and undermine our values. Whilst we are not alone in confronting this truth, it is crucial that we have uncomfortable conversations not just with each other, but also with those who have been marginalised or ignored.

We have substantial resources at our disposal to effect change, including a National Collection that holds over one hundred years of social history; an education programme that reaches over 10,000 young people every year; public funds that support new films and new voices; major public platforms to share cultural programmes (BFI Southbank, BFI Player, our Festivals, Sight & Sound); and many knowledgeable and passionate people.

We have also been leaders on driving inclusion. We introduced the Diversity Standards in 2014, the first time that measures were introduced that tied diversity to public funding and, with BAFTA’s support, to awards. We are working with AMPAS to help them develop similar awards criteria. And we worked quickly and collaboratively as an industry to develop bullying and harassment guidelines in the wake of #MeToo.

But - we need to embody the change we want to see, and be accountable as a public institution, looking like and reflecting the public we serve.

I took on the role of Chief Executive in February with a commitment to colleagues and our Board that I would put us on a path of radical change. This will mean dismantling the biases and hierarchies that are present within the BFI, and doubling-down on our duty as a public organisation to represent and welcome the perspective of all audiences and filmmakers: through our people, our programmes and collections, and the work we fund.

People of colour are underrepresented across the organisation, including in senior positions; there are no POC in the Executive team; and aspects of our recruitment and decision-making processes can push out rather than lift up non-white colleagues. Film has the power to teach history, amplify voices, and to challenge stereotypes, but we are limiting our ability to build a new and truly representative canon, and tell new stories through our collections and programmes.

There is also a persistent diversity deficit across the industry which we must urgently address.

We have made progress by setting targets and holding each other to greater account, but the status quo in the film community is undoubtedly still a system that privileges whiteness, and it has persisted for too long.

So, I’m inviting colleagues from across the film community to commit to change, to commit to being actively antiracist, and to collaborate with us on making our industry a better place to work.

We will share resources and experiences openly, and lift up and engage with the people and organisations who are already doing the work. I welcome industry colleagues and supporters to get in touch with us and take action.

We won’t get everything right, but we should also stop convincing ourselves that sufficient progress has been made. We must wean ourselves away from schemes and panels, and towards swifter solutions. We can no longer just say “we must do better” - tangible action is needed.

With that in mind, and with thanks to colleagues for their input and suggestions, here are the initial commitments that we are making, ahead of a deeper conversation across the organisation:

1. Who we are

a. We will be transparent in how we report who we employ, recognising that a global ‘diversity’ average can hide a lack of senior POC. We have already set permanent and minimum targets relating to the people we employ, and we voluntarily publish our ethnicity pay gap, but we have not yet reached or exceeded our employment targets for POC colleagues. We will update regularly on our progress, and in greater detail, not letting recruitment in entry level and administrative roles - or roles specific to race-related work - mask any lack of diversity in leadership roles.

b. We create barriers by demanding work experiences not always available to POC. We will review our recruitment processes, and identify and remove any practices and policies which bias against diversity of experience or bias towards the ‘easy’ hire. We already shortlist all POC candidates who meet the minimum eligibility requirements for an advertised role, and we will ensure only eligibility requirements absolutely essential to a role are used in recruitment.

c. In recognition that unconscious bias can impact what we think a BFI person looks like, and what experiences they bring, we will review our interview processes. We will make sure that there is a level-playing field for all candidates, and that we are recruiting for perspective and potential. We will interview in line with our values, and our future strategy and purpose, and with the active participation of colleagues.

d. We will provide training and peer support to ensure POC are not held back from progression. We do have amazing POC internally. We will commit to supporting successful candidates to learn on the job, and promote structured mentoring and secondments.

2. Our public programmes

a. Greater representation of POC in the BFI’s work. We have already set targets for our public funds, and we will set targets for representation across our cultural programmes, including films programmed in seasons, new releases screened at BFI Southbank, titles on BFI Player, and collections from the BFI National Archive and our education resources.

b. Bring more external voices into our work. We will build our network of external programming partners and co-create programmes with communities of colour. And we will work with more writers of colour in editorial and programming, including Sight & Sound. This is not a replacement for increasing diversity inside the BFI, but an opportunity to open up our platforms to partners and alternate voices.

c. Holding ourselves accountable. We will monitor and report publicly on our progress in each of these areas.

3. Curation

a. Ensuring our collections are representative of the experiences of POC in the UK. We will work with our partners - including the Black Cultural Archives and our partners in the regional and national archives - in the acquisition of key UK black filmmakers’ work into our archive, to ensure that the National Film & TV Archive is representative of the continued experience of POC in Britain.

b. We will support POC to curate these stories. The recruitment section highlights the barriers we need to address. We will increase the opportunities for POC in curator roles, and help to develop much-needed skills and knowledge in film archiving.

4. A commitment to every day inclusion that benefits everyone

a. Ensure rapid escalation of concerns. I want the BFI to be a safe and nurturing environment for both POC colleagues and audiences. We will provide training and resources for all staff on how they can better support their POC colleagues, and we will take action against all forms of discriminatory and racist behaviour.

b. Giving POC a powerful voice. We will work with and empower the BFI’s POC network to develop resources and support mechanisms, and identify and remove unacceptable systemic behaviours.

c. Acknowledging additional burdens. We will recognise and address the additional challenges of working in a predominantly white environment, and the impact on wellbeing and positive mental health that this can create.

5. Industry collaboration

a. Expand and promote the Diversity Standards. The Diversity Standards have provided the industry with best practice guidelines, but engagement in some areas is still poor. In January we published initial findings on how productions used the Diversity Standards between June 2016 until March 2019. The report highlighted a need for more industry engagement with Section B (creative leadership and off-screen roles) and that there is a comparatively low level of engagement with POC in section B. We will work with our partners at BAFTA to tighten the requirements for awards eligibility, and consult on how we strengthen the Diversity Standards to drive more engagement with POC, particularly in creative leadership roles and crews. And we invite all production companies and studios to incorporate the Diversity Standards into your production practices.

b. Update our policies. We will update the industry’s Bullying & Harassment guidelines to include more information and resources for dealing with racism

c. Investing in skills. We have delivered highly successful and life-changing BFI Film Academy trainee programmes in partnership with Lucasfilm, Disney and Eon. We want to invite industry partners to collaborate with us on future Film Academy programmes, and to work closely with our partners at ScreenSkills to ensure that more POC at all levels of experience are given access to opportunities in film.