Steve McQueen is calling out the British film and television industry for what he describes as “blatant racism.”
The director of Oscar-winning drama “12 Years a Slave” shares his views in a new op-ed for The Guardian about the “shameful” lack of diversity he’s encountered on the sets of TV series and films in the U.K., particularly compared to what he’s experienced on U.S. sets.
“Last year, I visited a TV-film set in London. It felt like I had walked out of one environment, the London I was surrounded by, into another, a place that was alien to me,” McQueen writes.
“I could not believe the whiteness of the set,” he continues. “I made three films in the States and it seems like nothing has really changed in the interim in Britain. The UK is so far behind in terms of representation, it’s shameful.”
In his op-ed, McQueen describes his efforts to bring more diversity to the set of his BBC miniseries “Small Axe”, but explains there is much to be done on an industry-wide level.
“We tried very hard on ‘Small Axe’: we created our own training scheme with one trainee per department. But, in terms of heads of departments, it was just myself and a couple of other people who were black British,” McQueen explains.
“The stark reality is that there is no infrastructure to support and hire BAME crew. And there is no infrastructure because there hasn’t been enough will or urgency to put it in place. We really need to do much, much better,” he adds.
“We did our best on ‘Small Axe’, but it was not good enough. The culture of the industry has to change. It’s just not healthy. It’s wrong. And yet, many people in the industry go along with it as if it is normal. It’s not normal. It is anything but normal. It’s blindingly, obviously wrong. It’s blatant racism. Fact. I grew up with it. I know it. And not nearly enough is being done about it,” he continues.
“It is also about class in the British film and television industry, the British class system. The two issues overlap: race and class. It’s the Oxbridge thing and it’s throughout the media. Basically, if you want to examine race and class in this country, start by going on a film set,” McQueen writes.
He concludes by pointing out that “the whole culture of the industry has to change. It’s long overdue. Yes, I’m fed up. I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘Oh yes, It’s terrible’ ever again. I’ve heard it a thousand times. They all agree, but nothing gets done. What I want is to see change, not hear excuses. I’m just totally exasperated about the historical lack of effort. Now is the time for real change.”