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Our commitment to diversity

As the lead body for film, and in our role as a public funder and a Lottery distributor, it’s essential that the BFI represents a contemporary Britain – in the films we fund and show, the audiences who watch them, and the filmmakers, actors and crews who make them.

Film has the potential to be the most representative and diverse art form of our age – to reflect changing attitudes, people, landscape – but we are not there yet!

When Steve McQueen picked up an Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave in 2013, he became the first black director to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This was a seminal moment for black filmmakers and a recognition of one of our most talented artists. However, the statistics across the industry tell a different story – just 5.3% of the film production workforce, 3.4% of the film distribution workforce and 4.5% of the film exhibition workforce were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in 2012.

Director Steve McQueen attends the 12 Years a Slave (2013) press conference during the 57th BFI London Film Festival.

Director Steve McQueen attends the 12 Years a Slave (2013) press conference during the 57th BFI London Film Festival.

In November 2013 we produced a report showing an emerging group of talented women writers and directors, including Jane Goldman, who are frequent contributors to the top 20 films in the UK box office, demonstrating that women are delivering both commercial and critical successes. In 2012, women made up 46% of the film workforce, and yet only 7.8% of the UK films released were directed and only 13.4% were written by women, demonstrating that there is still a lot of work to be done.

There is a similar story for people with disabilities. According to the office of national statistics, 14% of people in employment aged 16-64 considered themselves disabled. However, the 2012 Creative Skillset employment census shows that only 0.3% of the total film workforce are disabled (2% in production, 0.1% in exhibition and none in distribution).

Portrayal of under-represented groups can also be inauthentic. 40% of the general public said that characters from ethnic minorities are too often represented in films in a tokenistic way. This rose to 60% in the LGB community, 69% in the Asian community and 76% in the Black African and Caribbean community. And there was a strong feeling that not enough people with disabilities were represented on screen.

The picture of inequality among the workforce is bleak when looking at senior positions; even fewer people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds (BAME), women and people with disabilities are employed in senior positions. What’s harder to quantify is the effect that peoples’ background plays in how successful they are in film, but anecdotal observations suggest that class is a strong factor affecting people’s engagement with film and progression within the film industry.

So we are asking everyone we work with and everyone we fund (including Creative Skillset, Film London, Creative Scotland, Northern Ireland Screen, Ffilm Cymru Wales and Into Film, as well as partners such as 104 Films, Creative Access, Women in Film and Television, and Diva) to share the responsibility to help to challenge the status quo, and in so doing, start to transform the industry in which we work.

We are looking for a fair reflection of people from different backgrounds in every aspect of our work – for the sake of greater creativity and authenticity, to widen the talent pool, to offer fair access to the industry and to introduce new voices and untold stories from across the UK. Diversity is not only good for creativity, it’s also good for jobs. It supports economic growth, it taps into what audiences want to see and it makes good business sense.

There is some good work going on already with many of our funded partners:

Into Film

Taking film clubs into schools where higher than average numbers of pupils are eligible for free school meals. In England around 25% of schools with film clubs have higher than average numbers of pupils on free school meals; in Wales the figure is 45% and in Northern Ireland the figure is 80%. Naturally as more schools come on board, these figures will change but the emphasis will remain. Read more about Into Film.

BFI Film Academy

Our target is that residential and regional participants will reflect the diversity of the UK 16-19 population. Of the 2013/14 students taking part in the BFI Film Academy, 31% were from BAME groups; 46% female; 15% receive free school means; and 8% are disabled. Read more about the BFI Film Academy.

Skills strategy

Creative Skillset have targets to ensure the diversity of beneficiaries. These include overall targets for 50% female, 20% BAME, and 5% with disability.


Talent network activity has a target to reflect the diversity profile of the UK population. Read more about BFI NETWORK.

And in the BFI Film Fund we already have some notable successes. Belle, released in June 2014, is the second feature film from director Amma Asante – one of three black women directors supported by the Film Fund that year. Over half of the productions we supported last year were produced by women and a number of recent and upcoming films represent a diversity of filmmakers and stories, including Pride, Suffragette, Gone Too Far, The Selfish Giant, Philomena, Calvary and 45 Years.

Belle (2014)

Belle (2014)

There is also a diverse programme of cinema at BFI Southbank, from BFI Flare at BFI Southbank to the Discover Arab Cinema strand and African Odysseys. But there is a great deal more that needs to be done. Just over 13% of the audience at BFI Southbank are from a minority ethnic group. Our immediate priority is therefore to increase this alongside increasing UK-wide and younger audiences. The BFI Player is helping to achieve this and we will shortly launch more UK-wide programmes to communicate and engage with new and more diverse audiences.

Pride (2014)

Pride (2014)

Also critical to building more diverse audiences UK-wide for British independent and specialised film is the expertise of our partners including Into Film, the BFI Hub lead organisations, cinema chains, and broadcasters.

Regardless of the good work, tackling diversity issues needs persistent and sustained action, as well as a change in behaviour over the long term. Here are our immediate commitments:

  • To put diversity at the heart of decision-making
  • To build support for diversity throughout the film industry
  • To invest in key areas to help change happen

1. Putting diversity at the heart of decision-making

As the Lottery distributor for film, we have a responsibility to make sure that the films we support demonstrate a diversity of filmmaking talent, and in so doing provide a breadth of storytelling and serve a wide range of audiences.

We also want to ensure that recipients of public money share that responsibility to reflect and represent diversity both on screen and behind the camera. So, we have drawn up additional guidelines to help identify the areas in which they can increase the diversity of their feature film project.

The outline our focus on improving the diversity of supported feature film productions and production companies. Only those projects which are able to demonstrate a sufficient commitment to diversity will be eligible for funding.

The guidelines have been designed to allow for a flexible and common sense approach, but we will encourage productions to think beyond the minimum requirements and to embrace an opportunity to develop diverse talent and reach untapped audiences.

To support the introduction and implementation of these guidelines, the Film Fund will recruit a diversity expert who will work with the funded productions and the wider industry to ensure that the ambitions of the funded productions and the Film Fund are achievable and measured.

After the pilot year, during which time the assessment criteria will be properly stress-tested, the approach will be adapted and rolled out to all the BFI’s Lottery funded and other activities.

2. Building support for diversity throughout the film industry

The eco-system of the film industry – spanning development, production, distribution, exhibition, programming, marketing and archiving – involves a huge number of individuals, companies and organisations, as well as a lot of ‘push and pull’.

So encouraging diversity on screen, in the workforce and among our audiences is not something that the BFI can do alone.

Over the next 12 months we will take the diversity message out across the UK and pull together all parts of the film sector, to build a deeper understanding of the issues and create a shared vision for the future, and then we will publish a plan which is owned by the industry.

Money from our Diversity Fund will be ring-fenced to tackle key barriers and themes that the industry itself identifies.

Deciding how these funds will be spent will be a shared responsibility.

3. Investing in key areas to help change happen

Real impact requires an investment in change and we will make a number of key investments to tackle diversity barriers.

The BFI Film Academy has already been successful in attracting a highly diverse range of participants. We are creating 20-25 funded internships for BFI Film Academy alumni aged between 16 and 19. Working with Creative Skillset we are asking our partners to create opportunities for these talented young people and we will contribute £300,000 over three years to help support them at the start of their careers.

We’re asking for companies from all parts of the film industry to help us by providing placement opportunities, so please contact us at if you would like to offer a placement in your organisation or company.

BFI Film Academy – Residential participants

BFI Film Academy – Residential participants

We will also invest money to help us understand our audiences better by conducting a thorough audit of our audiences so we can set ambitious targets for growth from currently unrepresented groups. And we will also invest resources to understand how diverse stories are told on screen and how characters on screen can be more representative of the whole of the UK.

We want to see tangible progress in a number of areas but in order to measure this properly we need better data.

So this is our immediate commitment to diversity within the lifespan of Film Forever. By placing it at the heart of our activity and that of our funded partners, the BFI will have:

  • Built a consensus of a vision for diversity and a shared action plan with clearly shared ambitions.
  • Delivered a body of research that can support the need for change in the sector.
  • Supported more people from BAME backgrounds working in the sector and a clear roadmap for future progress.
  • Created a committed film diversity experts group, working closely with other relevant screen industry networks, to continue to press for improvement.
  • Supported a more diverse range of films and filmmakers.
  • Supported an increase in the proportion of its audiences from BAME backgrounds.
  • Supported an increase in the proportion of its audiences from outside London.
  • Built detailed and refined consideration of diversity into the heart of all of its decision-making.
  • Diversity standards

    Diversity standards

    Identify areas where changes can improve representation and encourage inclusivity.

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  • Principles

    A set of principles to tackle and prevent bullying and harassment in the screen industries.

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  • BFI Film Fund

    BFI Film Fund

    The BFI uses National Lottery funds to develop and support original UK filmmakers and films, and to increase the audiences who can enjoy them.

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