What has Blackout Tuesday changed? Not much – the TV conference rooms are still very white | michelle kambasha

Jhe last two years have been a test of how Western societies treat their most underrepresented communities. The killing of George Floyd, along with other forms of violence such as the treatment of Asian Americans during the pandemic, has encouraged underrepresented people to speak out, once again, about how the structural racism manifested itself in their respective industries. Blackout Tuesday was an initiative of two black women working in the music industry calling on businesses to set aside a day (June 2, 2020) for honest reflection and to develop plans to implement lasting change. Radio stations and television channels have changed their programs to include moments of silence and discussions on diversity. It was an impressive show of support. But two years later, has anything really changed?

It should be noted that before the social unrest of 2020, some important industry initiatives were already underway. Three years earlier, Netflix launched Strong black lead to amplify its content for audiences of color. Since 2020, the channel has created Asian, LGBTQIA, and Latin American counterparts called Golden, Most, and Con Todo, respectively. In 2016, UK Music launched the UK Music Diversity Report, an industry-wide survey which sought to collect and publish accurate gender and ethnicity data from across the industry.

But Blackout Tuesday called for more sweeping moves – an industry-wide gutting and restructuring to make it fairer. Vast promises have been made by the most powerful personalities in television and music. In music, the Big Three have pledged $225 million to racial and social injustice organizations. The Black Music Coalition was founded by four black music industry executives whose manifesto included “the advancement of black employees” (in response to the relative lack of black people in leadership positions) and the “elimination of ‘pay gap’ when it comes to black employees. . In collaboration with YouTube, Spotify and the Musicians’ Union, the PRS Foundation has created Power on: a long-term initiative to support music creators and other industry professionals. Each year it funds up to 20 black music creators for up to £15,000 each, with access to mentorship and marketing support.

Television has had some successes, but not without its own limitations. Channel 4 examined its internal structure and external output in tandem. Collaborate with We are a parabola – a black-owned company that consults with media, film festivals and other cultural organizations to platform black film and television – they presented the Black front project: a day when new original programming would feature predominantly black actors, writers, producers and directors. The lineup included an episode of sitcom Big Age, written by Bolu Babalola, and reality TV show Highlife, which featured wealthy Nigerian-British millennials. The day’s media coverage won a Bafta award.

Some critical Black to Front, mostly on the basis that it was only one day. Like some aspects of Black History Month, this risked being symbolic; a public relations project to make the station look good rather than bringing about lasting change. But perhaps the criticism was premature. Teaming up again with We Are Parable, in February 2022 Channel 4 announced a new programme, Momentum, train and mentor 60 black filmmakers.

In addition to Netflix’s existing initiatives, in late 2020 a slew of black sitcoms were added to the streamer, including Sister, Sister, Moesha, and Girlfriends produced by Kelsey Grammer. More important again, Netflix pledged $63 million for original content to fund its South African market, given the success of titles like Blood & Water, Savage Beauty and cooking show The Ultimate Braai Master. This is a good idea given that conversations about black cinema often focus on black western diasporas.

But in 2022, the streamer has seemingly lacked diversity behind the screen. Earlier this year, Netflix reported an increase in the number of black executives in its diversity and inclusion report, especially in leadership positions – a jump from 10.7% to 13.3%. However, it is apparent that the company has been rocked by a significant loss of subscribers in the first quarter of 2022 to 200,000 – its first loss in a quarter in 10 years. A loss of another 2 million is expected in the second quarter. Since the loss, Netflix has cut around 150 jobs, 60 to 70 of which are believed to have come from its diversity initiatives, including the aforementioned Strong Black Lead. It undermined its diversity efforts and sent a message that black people working behind the scenes know all too often – that our projects are often the first to be shut down in failing businesses.

However, the proof is there that dark stories on TV can be huge hits – take Netflix’s Top Boy, crime drama When They See Us and other shows like I May Destroy You and Pose. Meanwhile, the popularity of black music is stratospheric – genres such as R&B, hip-hop and urban contemporary music make up a large part of popular culture.

All of this begs a question: why has the growth of black stories on screen and in music been exponential, but behind the scenes so stunted or slow to progress? It is a story as old as time. Black art in its many forms – be it music, art, film, or television – is easily absorbed and then commodified by diverse audiences (and especially white audiences) to the extent that it can become dominant in popular culture. But all the while, the industry’s access control stubbornly resists internal change.

That’s not to say real change is impossible, and a number of patterns have been created to help balance what we see on our screens and what happens behind the scenes. For now, it’s important to champion the progress the culture has made in sharing black stories, but to remain vigilant and curious about the demographics in the boardrooms. Until white people are ready to loosen their grip on the industry, real change will remain out of reach.

  • Michelle Kambasha works in the music industry

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