§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Rendell of Babergh
rose to call attention to racism in the performing arts in the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, noble Lords will recall that it has not been long since an Unstarred Question on racism in the theatre was debated in this House. The subject of our debate today spans a wider area: the performing arts in general, including film, television, radio, music, opera and dance. Dominic Gray of Opera North has told me that he believes that "cultural diversity" in this branch of the arts might be a better way of putting it, being something positive and hopeful to embrace, rather than racism, as something to shun.
265 For decades there has been no real policy in this area. Indifference has prevailed and a pretence kept up that no problem exists. Objections have been habitually raised to black and Asian actors cast in roles which for years and sometimes for centuries, and for no good reason, have been traditionally white. But I believe that an optimistic attitude is now, on the whole, justified. Things have a long way to go and they are far from ideal, but it appears that, overall and with certain exceptions, companies, boards and managements are seriously addressing what they are beginning to recognise as a major problem throughout society.
Arts Council England has designated this year as the Year of Cultural Diversity—a project that will involve performances, seminars and publications. I have already mentioned Opera North. At present the company is working on a new production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" with a multi-cultural company of principal singers and rehearsing towards main-stage performances in April, May and June of this year.
Opera North has commissioned a touring exhibition of visual art inspired by Verdi's "Requiem". One of the six pieces is by Farhad Ahrnia, an Iranian photographic artist. "Operaville", a work commissioned by Opera North for the Millennium Festival in 2000, tells the story of seven real-life families from Bradford, including Dominican, Indian, Ukrainian and Polish families. It has a multi-cultural orchestra and singers from diverse races performing the opera. Currently it is touring as a set of songs to venues in the North. A large-scale education programme is working on "The Magic Flute" with culturally diverse schools in Leeds, Oldham and Manchester.
Enormous issues affect the development of singers and musicians from some cultural backgrounds. For instance, for reasons of religion some groups are discouraged from performing in and attending live performances or from attending performances in the evening. I doubt whether any noble Lord would argue against the need to respect other people's religious integrity. Opportunities are problematic for many people, and they may start as early as primary school. In 2001, Opera North, which describes itself as "colour blind". worked with 50 children in Dewsbury in a project focused on Puccini's "Madam Butterfly", bringing together Asian classical musicians and singers; the children and artists together producing their own version of the story. One hundred children were invited from local schools to rehearsals and then to the opening night of the opera. Fortunately those kinds of projects are now becoming almost commonplace, and not only for Opera North.
Yet there is still a sense that opera is a white European art form, supported by the composition of audiences and the still relatively low numbers of black principal artists seen on our stages. Why is that? A change for the worse has been the decline in instrumental teaching at low level, says Opera North. It is now available only to children whose parents are willing to pay for it. That has led to a sharp decrease in the numbers of non-white children taking up the violin, cello, harp and other musical instruments. The number of ethnic minority children who came into 266 the system as long ago as the 1980s had started to change the profile of orchestras. But according to Opera North, over recent years that influx has dried up. This points to a flaw in the system to which Her Majesty's Government might pay attention in the interests of a better balance between white and ethnic minority musicians.
It is now common to hear music from a variety of countries and cultures, even on the traditional radio station of Radio 3, where classical music from the West once predominated. This has tended to be advantageous to classical music as it has removed the stigma attaching to it in the minds of some listeners by putting it into a context with the music of other cultures.
Another distinguished opera company, the English National Opera, is committed to a policy of equal opportunities in its employment practices and to ensuring that no job applicant or employee receives less favourable treatment on the grounds of race or ethnic origin. However, a major reason for the low numbers of people from some ethnic groups in opera is under-representation in music colleges and a general lack of candidates from the black community. The ENO orchestra welcomes applicants from any racial background, but the fact remains that it has only two black members. In the area of dance, the company's current cast for "Orpheus" has four black chorus dancers. The orchestra of the English National Opera has only one black conductor, Henry Lewis. Singers are cast entirely on their ability and with no regard to ethnic origin. For example, Willard White, probably the world's most famous black singer was cast as Boris Ismailov in "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District", Sandra Browne as Octavian in "Der Rosenkavalier", David Arnold as Escamillo in "Carmen", and Thomas Randle in the forthcoming production of "The Magic Flute". Those examples look encouraging until we consider how many hundreds of names would figure in a list of white performers.
That black would-be performers should be encouraged to pursue a career in music is obvious, for they are often outstanding. This judgment makes a refreshing change from the exclusive remark so commonly repeated, that black people make wonderful dancers; rather, it seems to be that when opportunity and encouragement are there, Afro-Caribbeans and Asians make wonderful musicians.
The Royal Opera House acknowledges what must be evident: that the art forms of opera and ballet are in the Caucasian and North European tradition. At the same time, it recognises that that must change if audiences, including a large percentage of non-whites, are to be attracted to performances. Audiences naturally want to see their own people on the stage in productions written and directed by their own people. With that end in view, the Royal Opera House runs an education project called Chance to Dance, spread across 50 schools in several south London boroughs, to include all ethnic groups, for children from the age of seven upwards, with a scholarship for full ballet training. The Laban Centre in Deptford, opened last month, has 13 studios and offers training to students from all over the world in classical dance.
267 BRIT is an Arts Council key strategic development which works to integrate black and Asian practitioners into mainstream theatre and thus to support a more equitable theatre. It is not only among actors that ethnic representation has been small. According to the Eclipse report, the result of a conference held in the summer of 2001, out of just over 2,000 staff employed in English theatre, only 80—some 4 per cent—were of Afro-Caribbean or Asian origin. Out of 463 board members of English theatres, only 16—3.5 per cent—were Afro-Caribbean or Asian. Still, there is reason to believe that since then things have slowly improved. Among many other groups and companies to which the Arts Council has been allocating funds is the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, where there is a hub of training with two directors and an administrator. The theatre is currently amassing programmes which include projects using solely Afro-Caribbean and Asian performers. In Kully Thiarai, it has one of the very few artistic directors originating from these communities in the United Kingdom.
The Arts Council has inaugurated the South Asian Dance Alliance, a nation-wide agency to maximise opportunities locally and nationally, and the London Dance House consortium for African peoples. The Department for Education and Skills is seeking to target new audiences through specialist art and sports schools. An example is the funding of Elmhurst School in Tring to relocate to Birmingham, providing vocational training for what will eventually become a majority ethnic population.
The Asian Gurinder Chadha has achieved phenomenal success as the director of the film "Bend It Like Beckham"—though through her own efforts rather than from external support. The film featured the Afro-Caribbean actress Shaznay Lewis and made a star of Parminder Nagra as the football-obsessed teenager.
Research into multi-cultural broadcasting carried out by the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority and the Broadcasting Standards Commission resulted in the discovery that although significant progress has been made in the past five years, better representation of minorities is still needed on-screen and off-screen in decision-making positions. Channel 4, BBC1, BBC2, Choice FM, and Kiss 100 FM were commended on broadcasting minority interest programmes. Audiences felt that better representation would help towards creating a greater sense of belonging in British society, fostering a wider understanding of different cultures and allowing children to see themselves positively.
Concern was raised among Asian audiences of the way that arranged marriages were presented on television and they called for a fairer portrayal. Many African-Caribbeans, with good reason, dislike seeing their young men portrayed as irresponsibly fathering children with several different women. Participants from other ethnic groups took the view that their country of origin was either not represented at all on television or was shown in an unfavourable light. Leading black actors also feel that television companies patronise people from ethnic minorities 268 and take the view that approaches have to be made to them with "cap in hand" and that it is the writer or actor who must compromise—never the other way around.
Britain is contrasted to the achievements of African-American actors at last year's Oscars when Halle Berry made history as the first black woman to win the "Best Actress" award and Denzil Washington was the first black actor to win the "Best Actor" award since Sidney Poitier in 1963. British black independent producers in the United Kingdom felt that they were in the same position as women producers 20 years ago and were "ghettoised" away from main programme-making.
As of January this year, the BBC seems to be—I quote Greg Dyke's notorious phrase—"less hideously white" than it was, with 8.6 per cent of those on permanent or long-term contracts being black or Asian. It seems that its target percentage of 10 per cent will be met by the end of this year. Channel 4 has a target of 11 per cent by the end of 2003. But senior production remains predominantly white and it has been said that black and Asian entrants to newsrooms are quickly being persuaded on-screen as reporters.
I end by pointing out that people from ethnic minorities still feel that exclusion from mainstream society can be an ever-present reality. They are still acutely sensitive to tokenism, which implies condescension and a patronising attitude. Wary of the role that racial stereotyping in the performing arts can play in the perception of a white society, they want, not to be singled out and presented as "different" or "interesting" or "fascinating", hut as real, ordinary people, accepted and integrated. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord Chan
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh, on securing this debate on racism in the performing arts. I was privileged to speak at the last debate that she initiated in October on racism in the theatre.
Mainstream organisations are becoming more inclusive of ethnic minority performers. The Arts Council, the BBC and Equity have taken steps to provide opportunities and support for black and Asian people during the past two years, as identified by the noble Baroness. Those changes have taken place even beyond London.
Part of that progress must be due to the Commission for Racial Equality's Race in the Media Awards that began in 1993 when my noble friend Lord Ouseley was chairman of the CRE, and I was a commissioner. Awards were given to newspapers, magazines, radio and television. The eleventh annual awards of the CRE Race in the Media will take place on 11th April at the Savoy Hotel.
When the Race in the Media Awards began, the awards were considered to be of less value than other awards given to white performers by large mainstream organisations. However, the people identified by the 269 CRE Race in the Media awards have now become famous and are celebrities in our national spectrum of talented performers.
Only in the past two years have a variety of culturally diverse organisations received funds from the Arts Council to support dance companies—£2 million through regular funding and £1 million through the National Touring Programme. Similar amounts of support have also been provided for several black and South Asian music groups. Both management skills and standards of performance are being addressed. Those recommendations were identified in the Eclipse report on developing strategies to combat racism in the theatre.
The BBC Radio Drama Company is offering a new BBC fellowship to black and Asian actors—the Norman Beaton Fellowship. Norman Beaton, a famous black actor, died in 1994. He was well known for his role in Channel 4's comedy, "Desmonds". BBC Radio Drama productions have featured famous ethnic minority actors such as Cathy Tyson, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Adrian Lester, Adjoah Andoh, David Harewood, Lenny Henry, Meera Syal, Nina Wadia, Ben Onwukwe and David Yip.
While those developments indicate progress, unhelpful stereotypes of ethnic minority performers continue. Successful and high profile performers such as Cathy Tyson, interviewed last Sunday in the Independent on Sunday, complain that roles offered to black actresses are limited by stereotypes. She said:All we ever arc is prostitutes or princesses from Africa".I had the pleasure of meeting Cathy Tyson, who was born in Liverpool, in June 2002 at the Windrush Achievement Awards, a ceremony to celebrate the achievements of people from diverse backgrounds. Cathy Tyson, of course, has now developed a wide repertoire of roles on stage and on television, both in Hollywood and the UK.
In the area of performing arts, I must admit that best practice in racial equality is clearly more common in the United States than in this country. Opportunities offered to talented people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds in Hollywood and on American television should serve to inspire and challenge our practices in the performing arts in Britain. Our ethnic minority performers want to compete with the best talent to achieve recognition. During the debate last October, I questioned why the role of Madam Butterfly is usually taken by a European singer. I am pleased to observe that the English National Opera currently has a Japanese singer playing Madam Butterfly in London.
Our British-horn black, Asian and Chinese people are becoming scriptwriters, composers of music and performers of high quality in mainstream arts. In the past, opportunities for ethnic minority people to appear on stage, television and in films were limited to a small number of performers who had become celebrities. Many more talented performers will emerge soon. The performing arts, particularly television, should nurture and value new talent not only for commercial gain but in order that they might serve as role models for young people.
270 A survey on multicultural broadcasting published in November 2002, reported audience attitudes on the level of representation of ethnic minorities. I quote some important findings of a report supported by the BBC, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority. It states that,participants from minority ethnic groups agreed that there had been an increase in the levels of representation of ethnic minorities within mainstream broadcasting over recent years. Nevertheless, they still saw the need for greater representation, both of their own communities as well as other minority groups.Participants said it was important to be represented in mainstream broadcasts, be they radio or television, because they were considered to be the most influential of the media. Specialist services"—in other words, radio programmes in ethnic minority languages—while important to the communities they served, could not address this general need to be 'seen'.The reasons for wanting increased and better representation in mainstream broadcasting included: demonstrating a sense of belonging within British society; fostering a better understanding of ethnic cultures among other communities, including the White population; and allowing their children to identify with positive representations of people from their communities ….In summary, broadcasting was seen to have a role to play in breaking down certain barriers by offering: positive role models. such as figures of respect and authority, especially to younger people; different and positive images of the countries from which participants originated; ethnic groups a sense of inclusion within British society, especially when portrayed within mainstream broadcasting; some access to material in the language of a participant's country of origin".I hope that this debate will stimulate as much interest in broadcasting as that in October last year. And I hope that Her Majesty's Government will recognise the changes that need to take place to ensure that the participating arts genuinely represent a diverse United Kingdom.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Baroness Howells of St Davids
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lady Rendell in bringing the vexed question of racism in the performing arts to the attention of this House. My noble friend has given a pictorial précis of the current situation within the British performing arts, with her usual care and precision.
I want to take the issue of cultural diversity and equal opportunity into a realism as experienced by the black community as I understand it. In her historic speech at the Academy Awards last year, already mentioned, Halle Berry, who became the first African American woman performer to win the award for best actress in a leading role, told the audience,This moment is so much bigger than me—this moment is for those who came before, for those who stand beside me and for those who have only begun to dream of making it in Hollywood".Those words were blurred by tears of anguish. To date. no black actress could utter those or similar words in the UK because theatreland is not in the business of equal rights or equal opportunities.
271It is in the business of making money",were the words of Professor Todd Boyd at the University of California, whose specialism is critical studies, when asked whether Halle Berry's Oscar would mean more opportunities being made available to other black actresses. Noble Lords may be interested to know that in 2003 Miss Berry was the first black woman to be awarded an Oscar for best actress. That tells its own story.
That anecdote just related by me is true also of London's West End. The West End is not in the business of equal opportunity and cultural diversity. It is a commercial business of audience appeal, known in the profession as "bums on seats". There are no prospective Halle Berrys in the West End of London.
The London West End, as we know, thrives because of the enormous support the English system of subsidy has provided in the development of theatre over the centuries. Our subsidised theatre has been the envy of many countries in the world because by offering the space for experiment and exploration within the sector as a sort of engine room for the future classics, the West End is able to have seasoned actors and playwrights whose work it is able to market both nationally and internationally.
The majority of people interested in theatre see London's West End and its environment as the place where real theatre, English theatre, takes place. However, I suggest that that myopic view might be viewed with some understanding as often there is nothing else on offer. There is no work from the perspective of Britain's black community. Yes, we are sometimes able to see some black performers, as a token to equal opportunities, in the "Lion King", dressed so very fetchingly in their animal costumes, singing and dancing with great aplomb. I ask: should this be the only offering available from the black community?
Less stereotypical, less predictable work from the black sector is unlikely ever to be seen as viable because the under-investment in black-run, black-led theatre in Britain has meant that there is so little opportunity to hone their skills. I have said previously in this House that there is not a single theatre in this country which is dedicated to the exploration and experiment in the art forms of black British theatre. There are a multitude of such well-funded establishments which support some black theatre practitioners, but none for black people themselves to manage and grow. I believe that that is sad and a glaring loss. There is a glaring need and an unfair disadvantage.
The black community has identified one such theatre, but the powers that be have set a glass wall that cannot be broken without much more help than is now on offer. This could result in a missed opportunity to enrich the fabric of British theatre. So long as black British theatre practitioners continue to have to make a case with those who hold the keys, the only work which will get through the door, and possibly—only possibly—get on the stage, is work approved by the 272 gatekeepers. We see on our televisions football stars and those who have been good boxers owning their own programmes, but not our trained actors and actresses. The pound sign must be seen on their foreheads before they are given the opportunity. The power lies solely in the hands of white people, who can see things only through white eyes, however sympathetic. There is, I repeat, no black presence in the high places of cultural discussion and decision making.
This situation will remain the same if some change is not engineered, no matter how many equal opportunity documents are drawn up. Change must be engineered if it is to become a reality. The self-determination which would result from black culture having a home of its own, in which it would be free to break the cycle of preconception and prejudgment—sometimes called "prejudice"—is an issue which must be addressed. Such prejudice dogs the art of those whose influences are not wholly white European. Authentic judgment and application, through experiment and exploration in a safe place, is needed. New art forms lead to the excitement and exhilaration which reflect today's changed social scene.
Your Lordships may have noticed that I have not mentioned the word "racism". This is because I have come to understand that it is an emotive word and is not to be used lightly. It is often counter-productive as shutters go up and the way forward is effectively barred. But I remind the House that it exists, sometimes in so careless and casual a manner that it is not recognised for what it is.
I discussed the debate with Ms Yvonne Brewster, a producer and actress, who asked why it is that black people are found in the canteens, in the cloakrooms and behind the brooms, but so rarely on the stage, which reflects a reality they recognise. Sombre thoughts.
In February 2002, the Cabinet Office Minister, Barbara Roche, accepted that there were significant differentials between ethnic minorities and their white counterparts in unemployment, wages and promotion. She said, "Putting this right requires dedication and imagination". I believe that the arts, especially the performing arts, have the power to heal, to allow lateral thinking, but too often it is the last place one looks for solutions. I hope that in responding to the debate the Minister will give support to a theatre that is black-led and black-owned.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Prashar
My Lords, the development of a cultural identity is a basic human need, and the arts are crucial to this development. The arts help individuals, communities and society to be more creative in ways that go well beyond the arts. Those who are denied opportunities to either participate in the arts or to create art are indeed deprived. As a society we must make every effort to ensure that no one is denied such opportunities. It is not only socially and morally important but also, since the passing of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, legally important. I 273 therefore welcome the debate. I commend the commitment of the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, in pursuing this topic with such tenacity and I congratulate her on introducing it so constructively.
I have a particular interest in the arts and diversity. I declare an interest in that, since 1999, I have been a patron of Tara Arts, a national drama group based in south London; and from the mid-1990s to the late 1990s I chaired the Cultural Diversity Committee of the Arts Council.
During this period the Arts Council published an action plan entitled The Landscape of Fact which was directed towards a policy for cultural diversity. The title was taken from a line in Brian Friel's work, Translations. The complete sentence states:It can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of fact".The plan recommended concerted action in four areas: understanding and promoting the concept of diversity; access; advocacy and development; combating racism and promoting equality of opportunity.
The plan has recently ended its five-year period of operation, culminating in another report, this time entitled Towards Greater Diversity. The title itself suggests that progress has been made, as we have heard, and the report gives an encouraging account of what has been achieved.
We know that more money is going to black, Asian and Chinese arts and, much more importantly, cultural diversity is now accepted as a generic mainstream issue. Furthermore, as other noble Lords have said, there have been initiatives such as the fellowship schemes by the Arts Council; the activities generated following the Eclipse report of regional training days for senior management and boards of theatre companies; the networks set up by the Black Regional Initiative in Theatre to develop black and Asian work and audiences; and the radical schemes such as Arts for Everyone, among many others. These initiatives have started to change the landscape and make a difference. Lottery money has also made a difference because it has given the Arts Council and other arts organisations leeway for movement.
But significant issues still exist. The arts are not isolated from the pressures, prejudices and inequalities of a wider society. There still remains a need for continuing and concerted action if the playing field is to be levelled.
What is the key to eradicating racism? Now is the opportunity to build on the progress to date and to go beyond examples and single initiatives to a more sustained, coherent and concerted strategy. We must ask ourselves what should be our vision of a society without racism in the arts. I would single out three issues.
First, I believe that in the longer term the category "cultural diversity" within arts organisations would become redundant. Inclusiveness, cohesion, respect and exploration would become the main drivers for change. Secondly, it would be a society with shared spaces and public open arenas accessible to a range of cultures and voices, where a coherent society could 274 come for a chance to meet, interact and evolve. Thirdly, it would be a society where institutions with changed attitudes would be aware of and reflect diversity.
The question is how we can achieve this. First, it will require a long-term commitment to development. know that development takes time and is hard to achieve, but it is something to which we need to pay attention. Secondly, we will need representative structures. The arts institutions must become diverse and reflect diversity.
We will need a strong infrastructure of buildings for performance, experimentation and innovation, and support for the development of skills and training for black, Asian and Chinese groups and for administrators and promoters who are uncertain about dealing with diversity. Above all, we need clear leadership from government, the Arts Council and other arts organisations.
Finally, I commend the Arts Council document Towards Greater Diversity because it provides a cogent and admirably tough analysis of what still needs to be done. I have been greatly impressed by the formula arrived at in the work of the Arts Council's excellent Diversity Unit, particularly the work of its senior head, Naseem Khan, who left last week after seven years of impressive work.
The formula identifies two complementary actions. It argues that the Arts Council and other arts organisations should balance two different thrusts: first, increased opportunities for tackling resistance and racism in the mainstream arts; secondly, the building of capacity at grass roots level. It suggests that if we were to do one or the other predominantly, then the result would be counter-productive. If we concentrate on making sure that opportunities exist more than they do at present, we will run the danger of helping to make jobs for a group that does not exist in sufficient numbers or with the experience at the appropriate level. The result would be scepticism among the mainstream organisations about the need for positive action at all. The "we advertised and no one suitable applied" syndrome would continue.
If the formula concentrated just on enhancing capacity for black and Asian arts administrators, artists, curators and promoters, without making sure that wider opportunities were available, alienation would increase and black artists would consistently say that they were being trained but not employed. We would not see much progress.
Balancing the two by building capacity and providing opportunity is the way forward. That would increase choice and allow artists and managers to choose where they want to operate and how. Choice is what we should be working towards—that is, choosing one's identity and lifestyle—which is why this debate is of such importance. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister whether the Government and the Arts Council will be moving towards a coherent approach and supporting it with adequate resources.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Ahmed
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, for introducing this debate in your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness has a unique experience and expertise in the arts, particularly on this subject. I will therefore be brief, as I am not an expert in the performing arts. However, as someone who enjoys theatre, concerts, music, TV and radio, I have a few observations to make.
We are all proud of our multi-cultural society and there are many ways in which we can celebrate this diversity, one of which is through the performing arts. As in many other institutions, there is racism within the performing arts in the United Kingdom, particularly against the Muslim community. I will return to that later.
I believe that as a multi-cultural society, our theatres, TV and radio should reflect this cultural diversity in staffing, board appointments, artistic programmes, education activities and audience. The noble Baroness has already given percentages of board appointments and staffing which do not reflect our society. I believe that reflecting our cultural diversity will foster a better understanding of ethnic cultures among other communities, including the white population. As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chan, equality in the performing arts will demonstrate a sense of belonging in British society for all the ethnic minority communities. It will allow their children to identify with positive representations of people from their communities.
Unfortunately, there is too much negative stereotyping and very little of the real British society is being represented. I believe that through the performing arts many positive achievements can be easily reached. Figures of respect and authority who appeal especially to younger people can be positive role models. There needs to be a sense of inclusion, as well as positive images of cultures, religions and places of origin.
Although the Arts Council of England has many good initiatives for inclusion—I particularly welcome the increased support of black and Asian theatre, which was agreed as a national priority—I am yet to be convinced that enough is done to include the Muslim community within the arts. I am aware of a few thousand grant allocations for cultural programmes here and there, and a few musical events being sponsored, but how many women with hijab—women wearing scarves—are seen in the theatre or on our screens?
I recently came across a Muslim woman stand-up comedian, who was excellent. She is a British-born young lady brought up in the UK in a conservative environment. In fact, she has been to perform Ummrah—a visit to Mecca—which shows how religious her family background is. Yet she was extremely talented in her field and is very popular in all sections of the community.
276 There are many other talented young people like her. This brings down a lot of misunderstandings and barriers. The test for any institution is in practice rather than policy documents that collect dust.
I draw your Lordships' attention to the BBC, ITV and other institutions. Do we see many Muslim recipients of, or participants in, national awards?
I end with the hope that one day we will make equality a reality in all aspects of our life, including in the performing arts.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Falkland
My Lords, as I said in an earlier debate on racism in the theatre, we on these Benches are, without exception, dedicated to a multi-racial society. To that extent, we share some of the frustration which has been apparent in some of the speeches made today. I can understand that frustration, but I will have to examine the detail more closely.
The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, was extremely interesting; I shall read it in detail in Hansard. It would be unlikely if we were in France, let us say, for an eminent member of the Afro-Caribbean community, like the noble Baroness, to have made such a speech. Why should that be? France is no less racist. fundamentally, than any other community. All European countries have racism to a certain degree. France has been a colonial country, like us. We could be more critical of many aspects of French colonialism; it penetrated much more deeply into the areas of Africa where the French were in evidence than was the case in British Africa. There was an education system and a system of fonctionnaires, or administrators, which went down to a very low level. African independence from the French yoke was as greatly wished for as in British, Belgian or German areas.
I go to France quite often, which is probably surprising to hear nowadays. On television you see evidence of a multi-racial society in the performing arts that you do not see here. I am particularly fond of music, modern as well as classical, and Latin American, Caribbean, African and North African music is widely played on French television. Every variety programme has a multi-racial mix in the presentation that we do not see here. The reason is purely the cultural aspect of our particular colonialism. We talked about that in the previous debate on the theatre; I do not want to repeat the speech I made then, which was over-long, and I do not want to be over-long this evening. There has been slow progress, from a very poor start, particularly as far as Afro-Caribbeans are concerned. I mentioned this in October too.
To hasten the process of having greater representation of ethnic minorities in the performing arts is a slow business. To that extent, I do not think I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howells. I understood her to say that we must make efforts to accelerate this change at all costs. I think that it will happen anyway, although I understand her frustration.
277 She talks about Halle Berry in America. Many black artists in America have fought through tremendous difficulties to reach great eminence in their profession. Lena Horne, for example, had a terrifyingly oppressive and difficult childhood. I am old enough to remember being very impressed as a child when she starred in the film "Stormy Weather". I still think she was one of the most brilliant black performers I have seen in the cinema. There is a wide range of black artists in America today who are accepted generally. I suppose that there are still pockets in the deep south where there is resistance to accepting that these people can be as good and as talented as they are. One of my three favourite film actors in the world is Samuel L Jackson. Halle Berry is obviously another extremely talented star.
Why do we not have these people here? The simple answer is that we do not have a film industry to speak of. We struggle to maintain a niche industry, with a distribution system that is entirely geared to first-release American films, sometimes with ethnic actors and sometimes not. There is very little opportunity for British films to be distributed and shown. I was interested to read today that the Film Council has at East put some money into distribution to fund more prints of films, so that British films generally, whether they have ethnic actors or not, have a greater chance of being shown. Until British films have a greater chance of being shown, it is extremely unlikely that white British actors are going to be seen, let alone black or Asian ones. I look forward to the time when that will happen.
British ethnic minority cinema actors will be seen more often when more of those communities start to write film scripts. In my experience, a lot of the ethnic minorities here come from cultures that are very visual in their tradition. The British are not a visual nation in their tradition. They have a literary tradition that goes right through their theatre, broadcasting and television. It is very difficult to break that culture, but it is possible. both in the theatre and in film—more quickly in film and television, I suggest, than in traditional, legitimate theatre.
These are all debates for another day. I did not expect to say much today because I thought that everything had been said on the last occasion. I give credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, for introducing the debate and stretching further into the performing arts.
On the face of it, one would think that there was less racism—I do not like that word any more than does the noble Baroness, Lady Howells—in the performing arts than in other areas of British life. After all, there are talented dancers, musicians and singers from all the ethnic minorities—just as many as there are in boxing and other areas that the noble Baroness mentioned. Boxers get to the top through their talent, dedication, training, skill and ability to beat their opponents. Black actors will get there in British theatre and film by being better than their white colleagues. Many of them have the capacity to do that, but how will they get to that point?
278 The first issue is education. We have to get more black and Asian people into drama schools, for a start. Before drama school, we have to make sure that their talents are quickly recognised and developed at primary and secondary schools so that they go into the arts.
I imagine that racism in the performing arts covers more than just performers. I do not think there is any problem with the ethnic minorities as performers. I have seen many great performers. They are not often seen here for the cultural reason I have mentioned. Apart from cinema writers, we need to get more people into theatre management or production.
I rang up Equity to find out its views on the debate. I did not get much information, but I was told that the Independent Theatre Council is now running an expanded fast track scheme, supported by the Association of London Government and various other bodies, including the Arts Council England. to target people towards arts management. That is an important programme and I am glad it is happening. The scheme targets the current under-representation of Afro-Caribbean and Asian people in arts management and offers graduates or people with proven transferable management skills the opportunity to discover that there are great opportunities for them in that area of life, which requires multi-skilled and talented people. A 15-week full-time placement is provided in a performing arts organisation, with a bursary of £140 a week, together with day release for 12 Independent Theatre Council one-day management training courses throughout the placement, plus travel and accommodation allowances to attend the courses. That is a start on that important area. I commend Equity for bringing that to my attention. However, it will be a slow business and I do not think we can hurry it along.
Going back to performing, casting is a difficult and important area. People like to see their community represented on television, in the theatre or in films. If they do not, they are less likely to want to partake in those various areas of the performing arts. I do not think there is any particular difficulty in dance or singing, but there are obviously constraints on people unless there is more exposure.
Fulfilling the objective of getting more people being cast, sometimes by taking risks, relies on people's awareness, sensitivity and forethought. We cannot legislate for that any more than we can legislate for people's behaviour in the streets after the Licensing Bill, which is still preying on my mind.
Having worked in the theatre and knowing how important the issue is, I am glad that Equity is also working with Spotlight to create a new directory of Equity's African, Caribbean, oriental and Asian members. The directory of faces from which casting directors make their decision is important. It will be published at no cost to Equity or to members and will be available as a supplement to the Spotlight directory.
All these developments are under way. We shall have to debate progress again at some stage. Perhaps I shall not be here then, but others younger then me will be. Things are getting better, but I understand the 279 particular frustrations of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells. I hope that we shall have further debates on this subject. Perhaps we can pick something out of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, because she made some challenging points. I do not agree with her that all Afro-Caribbean actresses play either prostitutes or African princesses. That is hyperbole, although I get her point. I hope it is not the case. I look forward to further discussions on this interesting subject.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord Luke
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, on again introducing this important matter. As noble Lords will be aware, like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, I was not involved in the recent debate on this subject, when my noble friend Lady Buscombe spoke on behalf of these Benches. I do not believe that the situation has changed materially since then and I do not propose to detain your Lordships for long.
We are very grateful to the Arts Council of England—the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, made this point more effectively than I could—for its very helpful approach in emphasising the need for the theatre to engage with audiences and artistes emanating from a broader, more diverse range of backgrounds. There is a need for the theatre to reflect real life more accurately. It is important that the theatre reflect the diversity of culture in the 21st century.
There are funding issues, as several speakers have said, that must be addressed. As the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said, we cannot underestimate the importance of effective training and education. The overall aim must be to ensure multiracial representation at all levels in the performing arts. At the same time, however, theatres have to be practical and measure supply and demand if they are to survive at all in these difficult times.
There are many examples of breaking down barriers from which those in the world of theatre may take heart. I refer to the world's pop, television and film. There are plenty of role models—previous speakers have mentioned so many that I find it difficult to think of some who have not been listed—who are surely the key to setting the pace for change. I cite but a few, such as Otis Redding and Jennifer Lopez. Halle Berry has rightly been mentioned by nearly every speaker. She has carried a torch and most worthily won an Oscar last year. I should also like to mention one who has not yet been mentioned and is perhaps more from my time than from that of some noble Lords—the late great Paul Robeson. Who will ever forget his "Ole Man River"? The trouble was that, in his time, the only roles available to a black actor such as himself were as either the noble savage or the escaping slave. It is a great shame. If he were alive now, my goodness would we not get some marvellous operatic performances?
280 I conclude by agreeing with Peter Hewitt, chief executive of the Arts Council. He said:There is a need to change the mind-set and artistic practice of the theatre to reflect the diverse society of Britain in the 21st century".It is to be hoped most fervently that there is the necessary commitment, the necessary finance and the necessary courage to meet those aspirations. I look forward, as always, to the Minister's reply.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lady Rendell of Babergh for initiating this debate. Although we enjoyed debating these issues last October, that debate left many ends untied. I am therefore sure that we have all enjoyed the opportunity to participate in this debate.
I recognise the strength of the case presented by my noble friend Lady Howells, who reminded us that there are aspects of racism in the arts, the performing arts and the theatre which we need to combat. However, I have also found myself very much drawn to those who have emphasised that we should perhaps look to the positive objective that we should seek to realize—the promotion of cultural diversity. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for outlining a series of points and criteria that we could usefully adopt to measure our progress towards those achievements. This debate has no doubt greatly advanced that cause.
Way back in 1948, T S Eliot wrote that,the cultures of different people affect each other: in the world of the future it looks as if every part of the world would affect every other part".By heavens, how right he was. Today, following the two momentous debates in this House and in another place about how the wider world is breaking in on our world and our response to it, we are all too well aware that we need both international understanding and, within our own communities, understanding, trust, mutual faith and the promotion of equal regard, which is the basis on which the good modern society is founded. The Government are committed to making Britain a successful multi-cultural society. We are determined to build a society where each of us, regardless of race or religion, has equal rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibilities.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said, racism is unacceptable anywhere in society. In that context, I was interested in his reference to the achievements of French society. Although we would not want to be overconfident about our own position in any way, I think that he also paid due regard to certain aspects of racism in France that are manifested in rather more malign forms than perhaps we have seen in the United Kingdom. I recognise his point about certain aspects of the media where greater diversity is demonstrated. I hope to establish that the Government are also seeking to take concrete action to increase opportunities.
281 Bonnie Greer, artist, broadcaster and hoard member of the Royal Opera House, said:A cultural diversity policy should put art and artists first. Only in the hands of artists, can art grow and flourish. Culture, on the other hand, can be made and encouraged by the state. This is what the state should do, create a new culture that recognises the contribution of all of its citizens on an equal basis".That is a noble objective—one to which I think we have all in our various ways sought to subscribe. Promotion of equality of opportunity and an understanding among employers in the performing arts of the total unacceptability of racism are vital in ensuring the participation of diverse communities in the arts and cultural industries.
The battle to combat racism in the performing arts is being fought on many fronts. Last year's Eclipse and updated Glass ceilings reports, the Fast Track 2003 programme for Black and Asian people in arts management, the Black Regional Initiative for Theatre, the Theatrical Managers Association Eclipse Award and the Arts Council of England's Decibel programme are just a few of the fronts on which these issues are being fought. These projects are working to create change, working to make the performing arts more culturally inclusive and working to tackle the perceived problems of a culture of racism.
The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, emphasised the role of the Arts Council, to which she has shown significant commitment. I assure her that diversity is a key corporate objective for the council, which is working to ensure that in all open application programmes there is a diverse range of artists and companies receiving funding. She also asked about evidence of real resources for the Decibel project. The Arts Council is providing a significant sum—£5 million—for the project. Black, Asian and Chinese arts were given a significant boost from the council's capital programme. Of the £90 million allocated to 60 projects, £29 million went to black, Asian and Chinese arts organisations, which is real proof of the direction in which the council is working. Some £2.1 million has been reserved for the development of a new Chinese arts centre in Manchester and £1.5 million has been earmarked to relocate Kala Sangham, the Academy of South Asian Performing Arts, to west Yorkshire. As the noble Baroness rightly said, fine words are one thing but resources to back them and to achieve objectives are another. Those projects are tangible proof that the matter we are discussing is being taken seriously.
But how can we increase the involvement of people from different ethnic communities in the arts? First, we must support more culturally diverse performing arts companies to work in their own communities and beyond. Secondly, we must ensure that people and artists from our ethnically diverse communities have the opportunity to enjoy and work in mainstream arts organisations. As was said. this matter does not concern only performers but also administration and those who make the crucial decisions about what is presented and performed.
282 Since last October, the Eclipse report has continued to influence the work that is being done to develop strategies to make our theatre more culturally diverse and in the process tackle racism. Progress is slower than many of us would like, and more time is needed, but many of the recommendations are being addressed through the Arts Council and its regional offices. For example, seminars on positive action and equality of opportunity have now taken place in every region, apart from London which has seminars planned for April.
In the North East, partnerships are being formed between community organisations and the theatres in the region to raise awareness of the issues in the Eclipse report and to create connections between community organisations and the performing arts. In the North West, three new young black and minority ethnic companies have recently been awarded fixed term funding—Black Arts Development Project, Rasa and Peshkar. In the East Midlands a new diversity plan has been formulated for theatre in consultation with artists from the region.
I pick up the point made about the West End theatre. We all recognise that the West End theatre has commercial objectives which it needs to achieve. It does not receive state subsidy and therefore its productions are very much influenced by the audience it seeks to attract. Our regional theatres point the way in this regard. The theatres are producing three major pieces of black theatre, the first of which is a production of Errol John's classic play "Moon on a Rainbow Shawl" which is currently on tour. Rather disparaging comments were made of the "Lion King" production at the Dominion Theatre. Sonic noble Lords criticised the "Lion King" as being too stereotypical. I point out that the Young Vic's production of -Simply Heavenly" has just opened. We hope that that will attract significant audiences. As we all recognise, the West End has a significant role to play as regards role models. That point was also raised with regard to broadcasting.
We are all well aware of the need to provide opportunities in both broadcasting and film to reflect: the diversity of talent in our nation. There is no doubt at all that broadcasting, in particular television, is a most powerful medium and has an important role to play in helping to break down stereotypes. Broadcasters should certainly reflect and celebrate our culturally diverse communities and provide programmes that appeal to a wide range of tastes and interests, as well as to people of different ages and backgrounds. The scope of new programming services increases in a digital environment, and we want to see the opportunities created being fully exploited.
Both the noble Lords, Lord Chan and Lord Ahmed, emphasised the matter of role models for young Asians and young black people in our communities. I totally endorse the points that they made. The television broadcasters' Cultural Diversity Network was set up three years ago in response to concerns raised by Chris Smith, the then Secretary of State at DCMS, and others about the adequacy of the representation of our multi-cultural society on and behind the screen. 283 The network is involved in a number of schemes and events to promote ethnic minority employment in broadcasting, including special training schemes and networking events. It has also established an online database of ethnic minority talent.
The Communications Bill, which will shortly come before your Lordships' House, has a role to play in the matter we are discussing. It will address the issue that more needs to be done for broadcasting fully to reflect our multi-cultural society in terms of programme content and employment. The provisions in our draft Communications Bill are intended to require Ofcom to ensure that broadcasters include sufficient programmes that reflect the lives and concerns of different communities and cultural interests and traditions in the UK, both locally and nationally. Channel 4 will have a specific remit to satisfy the tastes and interests of a diverse society. The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, emphasised the role that Channel 4 plays in that respect at the present time. That role will be enhanced under new proposals.
The draft Bill also includes specific provisions about equality of opportunity in broadcast employment. That emphasises the fact that it is not just a question of seeking diversity among the people who appear on the screen or behind the microphone but also diversity as regards the crucial decisions that are taken behind the scenes.
In addition, all licensed television and radio broadcasters who meet threshold conditions set out in the Bill will be required to make arrangements for the promotion of equality of opportunity between men and women, people of different racial groups and between disabled people and non-disabled people in terms of employment. They will also be required to publish the arrangements, review them from time to time and comment on them annually. Increasing diversity in this way behind the screen will, I am in no doubt, lead to on screen programming that better meets the needs of the UK's many different communities and cultural interests.
Although I am not at this moment extending an invitation to noble Lords to participate in the Broadcasting Bill, I can forecast with some confidence that the Bill will receive intensive scrutiny in this House. The matter we are discussing will form an important part of that scrutiny.
The Film Council, the Government's strategic lead body for film, is also working on various initiatives to encourage and deliver a more diverse film workforce across the UK by actively engaging with traditionally under-represented groups and the wider industry. Our film industry has an important role to play here. We should recognise when easy comparisons are made with Hollywood and the American film industry that we are measuring a minnow against the whale in terms of resources, significance and control of the British market, as I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said. Nevertheless, our industry certainly needs to make its contribution to cultural diversity.
284 I think that I have shown that there is much work, thinking and planning being done across the arts and broadcasting to promote cultural diversity and, in doing so, to combat racism. There is no doubt that we have a long way to go and we must continue to strive to eliminate racism from all our services and institutions through our policy making and funding systems.
What I particularly enjoyed today is that, from the first speaker in the debate, my noble friend Lady Rendell, to the speaker before me, the noble Lord, Lord Luke, all noble Lords addressed themselves to the same objectives that we need to realise in our broadcasting and arts media, in terms of promoting a better reflection of our diverse society. It is on that basis that we can all derive the encouragement from this debate to go forward with constructive policies.
The dancer Shobana Jeyasingh said:Policies that are led by the principles of multiculturalism and cultural diversity are there to encourage a more equitable distribution of resources and promote a greater awareness of the work everyone, regardless of colour, has to do to achieve a stable and just society".That excellent sentiment sums up the theme behind the debate. Once again, I am grateful to my noble friend for having introduced it. We have learnt a great deal together and made considerable progress. I hope that I have given the assurance that the Government concur with the objectives expressed by everyone in the debate, and are concerned to use real resources and proper strategies to achieve them.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Baroness Rendell of Babergh
My Lords, I would like to congratulate all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, made interesting points on the views and perceptions of ethnic minority artists, questioning why the part of Madam Butterfly is traditionally taken by a white, instead of a Japanese or Chinese, singer. My noble friend Lady Howells spoke movingly about theatres in London's West End failing in their efforts to attain cultural diversity.
In her perceptive observations, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, spoke of a more equitable society as now becoming a mainstream issue, and of the desirability of clear leadership from Her Majesty's Government and the Arts Council. My noble friend Lord Ahmed spoke of his pride in a multicultural society, but also of his regret that the Muslim community was not yet well represented in the performing arts.
I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to the debate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.