• Michaela Coel at the BAFTA awards in 2017. (Mike Marsland )Source: Mike Marsland
"Instead of standing here, wishing for the good ol’ glory days... I’m going to try to be my best; to be transparent; and to play whatever part I can, to help fix this house."
By
Sarah Malik

24 Aug 2018 - 9:02 AM  UPDATED 24 Aug 2018 - 12:12 PM

COMMENT 

Young creatives of colour are no longer keeping mum, but speaking out about the unfairness they experience in the arts and entertainment industries as part of a new trend of assertive protest. 

Black Mirror star Michaela Coel this week called out the racism she experienced in the British television industry in a no-holds barred speech for the MacTaggart - a prestigious British platform for media leaders.

The 30-year-old actress and scriptwriter of award-winning British sitcom Chewing Gum talked about the 'torturous' struggle to make the Channel Four show, and the substandard and segregated conditions offered to minority ethnic actors on set who were given one backstage trailer to share, while a white actor was provided an entire trailer to themselves. 

“I asked the actors why they agreed to share. They just wanted it to work, their belief in the job only matched by their anxiety of losing it. I apologised. I told them we were working for a reputable channel, and a reputable production company, and they wouldn’t dream of recasting anyone for wanting a private space to prepare and change," she said, according to The Guardian

“I’ve never accused anyone at work of racism but I’ve been urged to understand someone ‘isn’t racist’ on every job I’ve acted in since, just by pointing out possible patterns, tendencies. When I agree they aren’t racist, but suggest they may be thoughtless on the matter, it doesn’t go down very well. But if you’re not racist, or thoughtless about race, what other thing can you be?”

She joins Star Wars actress Kellie Marie Tran and Emmy award-winning writer Lena Waithe, who both have been vocal about the barriers experienced by minority artists, spotlighting the need for greater representation and diversity in art.  

It's a sign of the confidence and greater critical mass of artists of colour in the industry, that more women have been willing to speak about their experiences. It's also a testament to the times, with more political activism paving the way for greater receptivity to these conversations. 

By unashamedly speaking out about the sexism and racism they experience, these women have used their celebrity platforms to make things better for those coming after them and give courage to those struggling alone through similar experiences. Through using their public voice to vocalise and protest, they become a symbol of the wider structural problems their experiences are a symptom of, and the need for collective action, not just in entertainment but society-wide. 

“We’re all gonna die. Instead of standing here, wishing for the good ol’ glory days, about the way life used to be before Mark Zuckerberg graduated, I’m going to try to be my best; to be transparent; and to play whatever part I can, to help fix this house.

"What part will you play?” Coel said. 

Coel, who won a BAFTA last year for her work on the show, also opened up about about the failure of her production team to provide adequate support and time off to renegotiate deadlines after she was sexually assaulted.

Channel 4 Programmes director Ian Katz said Coel's speech was a "wake up call". 

“Michaela’s MacTaggart is a powerful and important wake-up call," he said.

"She has raised vital questions about opportunity, support, transparency and inclusion that as an industry we must all address with urgency. The experiences she has described in her lecture are not what we would want for anyone working with Channel 4 or any part of our industry."

Let's hope this 'wake up' call is a 'putting you on notice' call to those within industries to radically restructure their policies and culture.  

 

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