14 May 2024

Working class creatives in film and TV at lowest level in decade

Culture Correspondent

The old adage “it’s who you know not what you know” has always applied to the creative industries and despite attempts to change the image of a sector dominated by nepotism, and run by the upper middle class, this programme can reveal that less than 10% of film and TV workers are from working class backgrounds, the lowest in a decade.

And most of them are based in London.

Feeling out of place

Sam Oddie is a documentary filmmaker from Ashton-under-Lyne, and he started young.

“I’d have to say the fondest memories I had growing up were of creating,” he said.

Despite winning many awards, Sam says it’s been a struggle to do what he loves full time. New research shown to Channel 4 News found just one in 12 creatives in TV and film are from working class backgrounds like Sam’s. And despite all the talk of levelling up, most are still based in London.

“I think the people from working class backgrounds oftentimes don’t have that belief that they can go for what they want to in their career. People from middle class backgrounds or upper middle class backgrounds are told from the beginning you can do whatever you want. Something that’s always been instilled in people from working class backgrounds is whatever you can get, whatever you can do”, Sam told us.

“There is a sense sometimes I don’t feel like I belong in certain events and people I’ve met who I do feel sometimes judged by. I feel like I’ve had to earn, and I’ve eventually gotten to a point now where I do feel involved and welcome. But it wasn’t in the beginning.”

‘Working class people aren’t a priority’

The research, revealed exclusively to us, found the arts are still massively dominated by middle and upper class people. In film, TV and radio, just over 8% of creatives are from working class backgrounds. The lowest in a decade. While over 60% of people working in the same industries and our middle or upper class – the highest in the last ten years.

And similarly in music and performing arts, almost 65% of people working are now from middle or upper class backgrounds, another record high, with just 16% coming from working class communities.

At Clapham Grand Theatre, we spoke to a panel of actors, directors and designers from across the UK. Talitha Bella Sewell, Ella Fraser and Samira Ahmed are all mentored by Arts Emergency, a charity which supports young working class creatives.

“I went to a drama school personally with a traumatic experience for me, so I’m deaf as well, which is another thing that I had to deal with, and I’ve had to debate whether I had to debate that my accessibility rights are important,” said Samira. “Everyone there was predominantly white, middle class, posh, and it made me realise, to get into the industry, you need connections.”

“I come from a diverse ethnic background and I’m disabled as well, and that seems to be something that they feel they can’t ignore,” Talitha said. “But then with economic backgrounds and different economic backgrounds, it’s something it’s like oh they’ll cope, they’ll manage.”

“I’m in Wigan which is one of the priorities for levelling up,” said Ella. “But at the same time it feels like even then there’s not enough money going around and it can feel like a box tick, specifically by the government in general. It’s not a priority for them. The arts in general, working class people aren’t a priority for them.”

Lacking diversity

The new research exposes an overwhelming lack of diversity. 90% of those working in the arts are white, nearly 70% in managerial positions are men, and just 1% of those managers are Black.

“Even when I get roles, I’ve been told by other people, ‘oh, you only got it because you know you’re deaf or a South Asian,’” Samira told us. “It’s like everything I do is not good enough either. I get the job because, it’s a tokenistic thing or, I don’t get it because I had that.”

Ella has been told to ‘tone down’ her northern accent.

“I don’t even sound that northern. I’ve been in an audition and they said, ‘where are you from?’ And I said ‘Wigan’ and everyone laughed. If you want to see good 3D stories, you need to represent the world. And the world’s not being represented. If you don’t have everyone involved in it, whether that’s behind the scenes or whether that’s in front of a camera,” she said.

“I think that outreach is going to be a big thing to change the industry,” said Talitha. “Going to the working class areas and showing them that actually just because you can’t see yourself and that isn’t the representation for you doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

“It’s what I relate to the most,” said Ahmed. “I used to love watching EastEnders and they’re supposed to be representing working class backgrounds and that was my stuff. People will watch it because it’s like, I get it. I want to watch it. You know, that’s me right there.”

‘Not enough meaningful action’

A government spokesperson told us they are committed to growing a creative sector with opportunities for all, creating new pathways into the industry through training and education.

“Everyone has a voice,” said Sam. “People keep saying, oh, we need to give young people a voice, it means give working class people a voice. Everyone has one. It’s just about giving them the platform to use it is the most important thing.”

Sam and the creatives we spoke to felt there had been much talk about equality, but not enough meaningful action.