While I was trawling for info on the Goodness Gracious Me special a few weeks back, I kept stumbling over comments made by Meera Syal regarding the BBC’s recent pledge that it would ensure there’s always at least one female panellist on every panel show from now on. According to the Radio Times, Syal’s position was that: “It’s true panel shows are competitive and male-dominated. But a quota system suggests we’re giving a chance to people who aren’t very good, when that’s not the case – there are loads of funny women out there… Quotas should be a last resort. I think a little imagination and a willingness to cast the net wider would put the imbalance right.” Reading that got me a little riled up, and I wondered how she’d feel if that argument was extended to include ethnicity as well as gender… and now I have my answer, as she’s just come out in support of Act For Change, a campaign to “examine diversity in British TV drama”* and “secure a revision of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code requiring production companies to audition at least one BAME [Black and Minority Ethnic] actor for every leading role unless an occupational requirement applies”. According to the the Huffington Post, Syal herself said: “I’d like to examine the most radical of the suggestions which is the quota system. With all the good will in the world attitudes just are not changing. If things are not changing, you have got to lead people that way. I know people are worried about tokenism but that only happens when there is not a lot of talent out there and there is a massive amount of talent.”
Of course, her two statements don’t necessarily contradict each other, but they did leave me a little confused. Then again, that’s often how I feel when I try to wrap my tiny little mind around this subject. Personally, I’m in favour of “positive discrimination”, but I understand the arguments against it… in fact, sometimes the most vocal opponents of such quotas are members of the minorities that they were intended to assist in the first place! For example, in her book Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995), the African-American author/activist bell hooks argued that: “Even though there are very few black judges in the United States, television courtroom dramas cast black characters in these roles in ways so disproportionate to the reality that it is almost ludicrous. Yet the message sent to the American public and folks all over the world watching American TV is that our legal system has triumphed over racial discrimination, that not only is there social equality but that black folks are often the ones in power… Many white folks who never have intimate contact with black folks now feel that they know what we are like because television has brought us into their homes. Whites may well believe that our presence on the screen and in their intimate living spaces means that the racial apartheid that keeps neighborhoods and schools segregated is the false reflection and that what we see on television represents the real.” (p. 111/112)
Thankfully, I’m a Fantasy writer, so “reality” isn’t something I have to worry about when it comes to casting my lead characters… no one can tell me that I’m over-representing the number of Desi demon-hunters there are in this country, or in a country I’ve invented!
* What about TV comedy? Doesn’t that need diversity too???