Meridian Line Films Co-Founder Nacressa Swan Writes Piece for Broadcast Discussing Diversity and Class in TV

MLF Co-Founder and Development Exec has written a piece for Broadcast discussing diversity and class in tv, as well as her personal experience getting into and building a career in the industry.

You can read the full article here and take a look below for the text.

“Diversity schemes are great – but they need to go further”

“A scheme launched my career and innovative new initiatives can do the same for the diverse voices we desperately need in this industry, says Nacressa Swan.

Hats off to BBC director of creative diversity Jude Sarpong for acknowledging that we have a problem engaging working class audiences – though it comes as no surprise.

After all, it wasn’t so long ago that as an industry we misread the public mood on the Brexit referendum, or that working-class people were being regularly hung out to dry on programmes like the Jeremy Kyle show.

In a world with social media, where there are fewer gatekeepers, and where facts and opinion get intertwined and go unchallenged, maybe certain audiences, including the working classes, don’t need TV anymore.

But we need them. If TV is going to stay relevant, we need to do something to engage everyone. The majority of decision-makers in our industry come from similar backgrounds and have similar outlooks. It is still largely London-centric and built on who you know. Depending on which figures you consult, the number of people in film, tv and radio who grew up in a working class household could be as low as 12%, according to official reports.

As a teen, as race riots rampaged past my council house, the TV was a window to an outside world where even a girl from Burnley could dream of being someone else, somewhere else.

As the pandemic has proven, TV still has the power to be our most loyal companion in an everchanging world, but it has also disproportionately hit our BAME and working-class colleagues – so how do we ensure that they break through and sustain a career in our industry so they can change it from the inside?

For me, the answer was a good diversity scheme.

“The language around diversity initiatives has changed, but the sentiment is the same. We shouldn’t still need them, but we do”

Three years on from those riots and a degree later, I got my foot in the TV door with Channel 4’s yearlong Researcher Training Programme, working with a London indie.

The year’s contract gave me a safe space to make more mistakes than I care to remember, plus the crucial network and credits needed to secure the next job. Over the year, my skills spoke for themselves and I didn’t have the nagging worry about whether my face fit or whether I interviewed well.

That indie became my home for eight years. I got over feeling like its charity case, working-class BAME employee and understood for myself that it made good business and editorial sense for the company to have someone with a different perspective and voice.

I researched, then APed, then produced feature-length co-productions and juggernaut returnable series as if my life depended on it – and it did.

Without them, I would have fled London and TV at the first sign of not having a wage, not being able to pay my rent. They were the safety net I needed to build a career and it changed my life.

Fast forward to today where diversity initiatives are still key in driving change. Meridian Line Films, the five-year-old Yorkshire indie I set up with my good friend and colleague Liz McLeod, has been selected for both the Channel 5 BAME partnership and Channel 4’s Indie Accelerator.

Opportunity outside London

The growth of broadcasters and indies in our nations and regions means there is now a growing workforce outside London who will never feel they have to up-sticks and move to the capital to work in our industry. Bigger series and constants like Steph’s Packed Lunch once again provide safe spaces for people who might not otherwise get in to learn the ropes, but there is still more to be done.

The language around diversity initiatives has changed, but the sentiment is the same. We shouldn’t still need them, but we do.

We’re acknowledging as an industry that we need to do a heck of a lot more to attract and retain black, Asian and minority ethnic people. At a time of shrinking budgets, we need a formal process to make sure we do something about it.

Just imagine if we could also create the same opportunities for people from other backgrounds. If there has ever been a good time for
another kind of diversity scheme, it’s now.”