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Guest Blog: "Why do we need diversity?"

Glitch Film Festival 24 March - 2 April
Scotland's Screen Summit is a forum for debate and discussion open to everyone in the Screen Sector in Scotland, with this year's edition taking place on 15 June 2016 at the University of Edinburgh ahead of the 70th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

A core discussion throughout Scotland's Screen Summit was diversity in the Screen Sector, with a panel dedicated to Equalities running in the afternoon.Standing in for Nosheen Khwaja on the panel was Cloudberry MacLean from Glitch / Digital Desperados who offered a rousing and thought provoking opening statement that we share here:

“In the context of the UK film industry we were asked to explore the question - Why do we need diversity?

“We need diversity in the way that we need truth, as opposed to lies.

“Diversity is quite simply a truth. There are many people in the world. The majority are people of colour. If broadly the 1 in 10 statistic is true there are millions of LGBTIQA+ people. Women are half the population. Most of the world’s population is not wealthy. It is certainly not western. In fact as Nina Simone sings in Backlash Blues:

But the world is big 
Big and bright and round 
And it's full of folks like me 
Who are black, yellow, beige and brown 

“But these truths are not represented by the film industry. Either in terms of who holds positions of power or via depictions created on screen.

“Contemporary uses of the word diversity can have a vague or obscuring quality.

“Sometimes it can mean, as academic Sara Ahmed has termed it, ‘conditional hospitality’. What does it mean when a predominantly white institution (such as comprise the film industry) aims to increase the numbers of people of colour participating? If people are being welcomed in what does this mean? It can be as if they are being welcomed into someone’s home – that they own and where the rules of the house reasonably apply. But institutions such as universities or public arts bodies are not homes – they are areas of public life and human endeavour and as such should not require assimilation in order to participate in them. 

“Participation should not be dependent upon dilution of one’s own creative and/ or political voice. Film funding within the UK should support people from minority groups and/or women to develop their own autonomous creative practices, organisations and projects. All too often funding goes to predominantly white institutions to develop short term, tokenistic schemes that leave power residing in the same hands at the end of them as before.

“We would refer everyone to the CRER (Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights Scotland) report Changing the Race Equality Paradigm – Key Concepts for Public Social and Organisational Policy that lays out a constructive basis from which public institutions can develop an understanding of race, racism and diversity.

“We hope that the use of the word diversity sits as part of an intention to address various forms of social inequality – to try to tackle ableism, racism, the ills and dis-empowerment that poverty brings, transphobia, homophobia, sexism and more.

“And we hope that the vision for the process of addressing those inequalities involves centering the experiences and knowledge of those most immediately affected by them.

“Which raises the question of what does it mean to not see yourself represented on screen?

“Unless you go to another non-western continent most people here won’t get to experience the feeling of not seeing yourself reflected on screen.

“To only see a social group to which you belong either eclipsed entirely or portrayed in a stereotypical way is a hurtful and isolating experience. 

"We hope that the use of the word diversity sits as part of an intention to address various forms of social inequality – to try to tackle ableism, racism, the ills and dis-empowerment that poverty brings, transphobia, homophobia, sexism and more."- Digital Desperados

“Film is such a powerful and central medium in our society, through which so many ideas are communicated, that to grow up without seeing reflections of yourself is alienating.

“This damage is not contained to the realm of personal pain and internalised oppression - i.e. coming to believe the dominant narrative about yourself and taking that within – misrepresentation leads directly to wider oppression in everyday life.

“There is a vicious cycle between stereotypical representations of queer people and actual homophobic abuse. Racist stereotypes in film and TV play directly into creating a society where there are 71 racist hate crimes per week in Scotland. The fact that people consistently view films with racist stereotypes encourages them to hold views that exist on a spectrum of racism and in turn create more films with stereotypical characters. 

"Self-representation is the main answer – we must tell our own stories.

“When we tell our own stories we find that they are varied, nuanced - fantastical, angry, maybe addressing political issues, maybe delicate, restrained, minimalist in execution, narrative or documentary, oblique or very direct, pertaining to ourselves or an imagining of people we have never met.

“If people are allowed the power and opportunity to self represent in film then you find greater and richer portrayals lifting them away from stereotypes. You would no doubt see more depictions of disabled people with agency and active sexuality, for example.

“That in turn assists everyone’s ability to connect with each other, know each other better and create more honest portrayals of people who are different from them.

“It was for these reasons that we started Digital Desperados. Out of both an intense frustration at the lacks and also a love and excitement at the creativity that emerges when it is given even the most minimal of support.

“We run a free intensive filmmaking course for women of colour (trans inclusive). Each course participant produces their own short film – the aim is to imbue them with the necessary knowledge and sense of possibility to continue to produce their own films via DIY means. Despite truly shocking statistics that consistently emerge about the tiny amount of women of colour participating in the UK film industry we do find that great films have and are being created by women of colour and people of colour. We showcase some of these via our free film screening programmes that focus on films made by or about people of colour.

“And on a bigger scale via GLITCH Film Festival we create an international platform for good quality film and video art created by and about LGBTIQA+ people of colour. It is to be noted that this is a groundbreaking queer festival – the first with this programming focus in the whole of Europe. Also our Festival Director is (to our knowledge) the only queer woman of colour Festival Director in Europe. When we were looking at figures Nosheen [Khwaja] joked that they were in the 1% but the wrong 1% financially. Turns out the figure is actually lower than that…more like 0.001%!

“When it came to summoning to mind who is a women of colour working in programming in the film exhibition sector in Scotland we could only think of 4 women of colour and maybe 1 or 2 men of colour. Given that the amount of people of colour is 3% in Scotland, 12% in Glasgow and that people move between other areas of the UK and the globe to take up jobs in Scotland this is truly disproportionate.

“And the thing is for our festival GLITCH we have had very varied audiences from different class and income backgrounds, sexual identities and races – in our experience people are more open to engaging with films focusing on people of different social groups from themselves than they are given credit for. Also to the degree that people are resistant to those they think of as ‘other’ – does this not need to be challenged?

“To us the benefits of diversity – that a plurality of cultural and personal knowledge enriches us all – are clear. The idea of aiming to live in a society that recognises and celebrates differences whilst simultaneously meeting our collective needs seems to us to be our only human hope. The very process of working out how to co-exist as equals increases our collective strength. And the film industry has a vital part to play in making these larger changes.

“We hope we can focus on immediate practical ways to achieve greater diversity in terms of who gets to create and exhibit film.“The working conditions that will lead to more diversity in the film industry are ones that would benefit everyone such as shorter working hours, support with caring responsibilities, a social wage, an end to unpaid internships, wide scale advertising of jobs etc. These could be achieved via various means such as increased union membership, decisive action from unions etc. and by positive responses from significant bodies in the film industry to calls for reform in these areas.” 

Thanks to Cloudberry and to Nosheen Khwaja for allowing us to share their statement from Scotland's Screen Summit.

Digital Desperados Summer Season, 5 May - 27 August 2016

GLITCH Film Festival,  24 March-2 April 2017 at the CCA, Glasgow


Creative Scotland is currently undertaking a Screen Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Review. As part of the review, findings from an online survey into practitioners’ experiences and views on perceived barriers to participation and progress in the Screen Sector was published in June, with the full Review due to be published later in the year.