Lenny Henry calls results of survey highlighting widespread institutional racism in entertainment “a stain against the entire industry”

The in-depth report was released today.

Lenny Henry (Getty)

A new report has been published today that puts the spotlight on racism in the entertainment industry and the results are sobering, to say the least. As part of an investigation by Birmingham City University, 1,300 actors were polled and “racial ceilings, stereotypes and prejudice” are all still being experienced by many of those spoken to.

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Lenny Henry has spoken out after seeing the results of the study (which was commissioned by the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity at Birmingham City University and the Personal Managers Association with support from the Casting Director’s Guild), and has said that “the fact that the majority of respondents had directly experienced racism in the workplace should be a stain against the entire industry”.

Key findings from the research include:

  •  79 per cent of respondents feel roles continue to stereotype their ethnicities
  • 64 per cent of respondents have experienced racist stereotyping in an audition
  • 55 per cent of respondents have experienced racist behaviour in the workplace

Actors who participated in the survey also revealed specific issues around hair and make-up, and an inability to speak up against racist practices encountered while working. The report found:

  • 71 per cent of respondents have experience of hair and make-up departments unable to cater to their heritage, hair or skin tone
  • 61 per cent of respondents feel “largely” unable to turn down an audition for a stereotypical character
  • 66 per cent of respondents feel “generally” unable to discuss issues openly with a director

Recommendations from the Race Between the Lines: Actors’ Experience of Race and Racism in Britain’s Audition and Casting Process and On-Set report include:

  • The need for an independent third-party reporting body that actors can access confidentially and anonymously if needed
  • Active involvement and input from people of colour in substantive roles with the power to actively engage in anti-racist practices, including the avoidance of stereotypes in writing and casting
  • Ensuring appropriate levels of competency for hair and make-up artists working with actors of all heritages

The report includes a foreword from Henry himself who said:

“Casting is one of the most important aspects of achieving true and accurate diversity, inclusion and equity in the acting profession. It is literally the foundation that everything else is built upon. Every time we see a great actor like Thandiwe Newton, Idris Elba or David Harewood leave these shores to find opportunities denied to them in the UK, it is a painful reminder of why casting is so important.

The workplace environment has also been found to be problematic by the majority of respondents to the survey. Knowledge of non-white physical characteristics by hair and make-up artists has been revealed as deeply problematic for performers of colour, with actors from African-Caribbean heritages at a particular disadvantage.

Report author, diversity researcher and writer Dr Jami Rogers said, “This survey has revealed how much work the entertainment industry has to do to fix the systemic inequalities that affect performers of all minority ethnic communities. The experiences of overt racism in this report are, frankly, horrific and the actors’ comments expose the grim reality they sometimes face when all they are trying to do is earn a living from an art form they love.”

You can read the full report here.

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