As the Oscars airs tonight we are reminded that, for the second year running, the face of the entertainment industry is straight, white and male. After boycotts from high profile celebrities and a social media frenzy behind the hashtag #Oscarssowhite, the Academy has promised to double the number of women and ethnic minority members by 2020.
Yet the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees are just the end product of a deep-seated system of exclusion and prejudice. Currently, in the television and film industry, only 1.5 per cent of UK directors are black, asian minority ethnic (BAME). But one organisation is hoping to change the industry from the bottom up.
Create Jobs, a partnership between A New Direction, an organisation that connects young Londoners to cultural opportunities and Create London, which aims to support artists by delivering long-term creative projects.
Set up in 2011 to tackle youth unemployment and counter the lack of diversity in the arts, Create Jobs provides mentoring, access training, paid intern placements and apprenticeships for local young people.
Award-winning actor Idris Elba OBE, who grew up around Hackney, recently told MPs in Parliament: “Talent is every where, opportunity is not.” Nowhere is this truer than in east London, which has the highest unemployment rates spread between the boroughs of Barking & Dagenham (9.8 per cent), Tower Hamlets (8.8 per cent), and Newham (8.6 per cent). According to London’s Poverty Profile, one in ten young people between 16-24 are unemployed in London – 2.5 times higher than adults aged 25-64.
Since 2010 Arts Council funding has been slashed by 40 per cent, tuition fees have tripled, and teaching grants for arts subjects significantly reduced. Increasingly, graduates are entering a jobs market saddled with debt and with little practical work experience.
Kristian Sakulku, a 22-year old from Tower Hamlets studied Film and Television Production at Anglia Ruskin University. After graduating he signed on with the Job Centre. He said: “It was demoralising. It felt like they didn’t give a damn.”
Sakulku turned to Create Jobs where opportunity came in the shape of a three-month internship as an assistant producer in Seville, Spain. “It was brilliant,” he says, “I was helping produce films, translating scripts, writing shooting plans and schedules. They gave me a lot of responsibility. I was the main person they relied on for translating from Spanish to English so it was a lot of pressure but it was a lot of fun too.”
Aside from giving graduates like Saklku practical work experience, the Capacity London internship programme is a great experience for young people who haven’t gone to university. Sumi Ejiri, the partnerships manager, explains: “When you go to university you do a lot of growing up – so it’s giving that level of independence to people that don’t go down the university route.”
Last year the Panic! survey, launched by the Guardian in partnership with Create London, found that nearly 90 per cent of people working in the creative industries have worked for free at some point in their career. Often unpaid placements aren’t feasible for people without the luxury of dipping in and out of their parents’ pockets.
Create Jobs is increasing social mobility by running weekly briefings in job centres across east London. As a result the company is able to spot candidates with a creative flair who would benefit from work experience within cultural organisations. The partnership means travel is paid for and young people can continue to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.
According to McKinsey’s Diversity Report there’s a strong link between ethnically diverse companies and better financial performance. Despite the obvious benefits, Ejiri says arts sector jobs aren’t advertised properly, meaning those within the industry tend to refer friends for new positions, further compounding the lack of diversity: “Add to this, the cost of degrees, the lack of good quality apprenticeships, and the swathe of unpaid entry-level positions,” Ejiri says, “and you start to paint a pretty dark – or rather a pretty white, middle-class picture.”
In 2015 Create Jobs created 74 paid jobs with 71 per cent of those jobs going to BAME applicants. Ejiri says: “One of our massive pushes at the moment is looking at alternative routes into the industry, especially the creative industry, where everyone has got a bit of a fetish for degrees.”
Chloe Smith, 25, from Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets is a Create Jobs success story. After completing a fashion internship with Create Jobs, she is now designing her first collection with Binghi’s Boutique in central London’s Bond Street. Smith, who is dyslexic, remembers teaching herself to make a tracksuit through Instagram. She says: “I didn’t have the money or the GCSEs to get onto a fashion course, so I used my mum’s old sewing machine.” In the future she hopes to open her own fashion house and become a recognisable brand in east London.
The point, according to Create Jobs, is that creative and cultural opportunity shouldn’t be dependent on wealth, geography or luck.
In December, Create Jobs secured funding of £35,000 from Royal Bank of Scotland which will see a further 250 young people helped into the creative industry. In an industry that too often values who you know, not what you know, Create Jobs has developed an impressive network of partners in east London.
The organisation is currently creating job opportunities on behalf of the London Legacy Development Corporation meaning those from disadvantaged backgrounds will be able to work with the likes of the V&A, University College London and Sadlers Wells as they move into the Olympic Park.
Sakulku says he wouldn’t have found the opportunity in Spain without Create Jobs, and he’s since set his sights further than a career in the film industry. Now he wants to inspire and educate other young people through community projects within the arts sector, starting with the kids on his own estate in Tower Hamlets.
If you’re an employer, a member of an arts organisation or think Create Jobs might be able to help you, you can find out more about Create Jobs here. Check out their Twitter feed at @Create_jobs and @Create_London.
Follow Kyra Hanson on Twitter: @Kyra_sian