Sitting in the amphitheatre of the Royal Opera House on Sunday evening way above the Bafta awards ceremony, it was difficult not to spot a glaring problem.
Scanning the stalls, where 400 or so of Britain’s brightest and best film and television glitterati were seated, I could count barely a dozen non-white faces.
The rest of the audience wasn’t much more diverse, either. We were an almost entirely Caucasian congregation, purporting to represent the cream of British culture.
Yet Britain is diverse. It doesn’t have one face. It doesn’t have one accent. And it doesn’t have one colour of skin. So a British film without any ethnic diversity can hardly portray the full richness of modern Britain; and a British film industry without black, Asian or minority ethnic actors, designers, directors and cinematographers feels like an insulting throwback to a bygone era.
We were celebrating some wonderful movie-making on Sunday – and last year the best picture award went to 12 Years a Slave – but there was not a single black or ethnic minority winner this year.
Naturally enough, everyone has focused on the fact that David Olewoyo was not nominated for his performance in Selma (apparently because the release date fell too late), but the truth is that Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) actors face a series of hurdles in this country.
Financial hardship may be a colour blind barrier to getting into the arts (and it was depressing that the working class actor Bob Hoskins was left out of the Bafta commemoration of those who had passed away this year), but the figures speak for themselves.
According to the Taking Part survey, black and minority ethnic participation in the arts lags nearly 10 per cent behind white participation and the gap between black and minority ethnic attendance at heritage sites is even wider at 17 per cent. No wonder just 5 per cent of people employed in the creative industries is BAME – a disturbing under-representation for a community that consists of 12 per cent of the population.
Baftas 2015 red carpet
Baftas 2015 red carpet
1/21 Amy Adams in Lanvin
Icy white with a touch of sparkle, this is a slick look from best actress nominee Amy Adams. From the bright white colour and the column silhouette to the sleek hairdo, Amy has nailed this look. The only exception is the tied-up belt which detract somewhat from the overall effect.
2/21 Julianne Moore in Tom Ford
Julianne Moore's Givenchy haute couture gown at the Golden Globes is still our favourite look of awards season so far, however she is not far behind in this plunging neckline Tom Ford number. All the drama of an award season gown in fiery red with the addition of a good dose of sex appeal thanks to the daring neckline.
3/21 Rosamund Pike in Roland Mouret
Considering some of Rosamund Pike’s previous choices this awards season, this gown by Roland Mouret is well a little dull. The form fitting black halter neck dress is a classic look but won’t be winning any awards in the innovation department.
4/21 Patricia Arquette in Pamella Roland
Nominee Patricia Arquette has been a consistent appearance on best dressed lists. This plum red number is another great look, we are particularly fond of the Patricia’s choice of a quiff updo that gives the look a more modern feel.
Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
5/21 Alice Eve in Schiaparelli
Fans of Alice Eve may remember the flame dress the actress opted to wear to the 2013 BAFTAs. Unlike that, this black number was a rather safe choice; the only slight reprieve comes with the thigh high split, otherwise the dress and pulled back hair is rather ageing on Alice.
David M. Benett/Getty Images
6/21 Olivia Grant in Jenny Packham
We do feel for Olivia Grant who looks positively frozen in her slinky beaded gown by Jenny Packham. A striking look no doubt, if a little daring in the middle of a freezing cold February.
7/21 Kristin Scott Thomas in vintage Balmain
The actress showed off her veteran red carpet status in a vintage design by Balmain. Kristin looks poised and stylish in this classic design artfully accessorised with whopping great diamond earrings.
8/21 Holliday Grainger in Antonio Beradi
Monochrome is the most timeless of all colour combinations so a faultless choice for Holliday Grainger whose black and white gown with plunging neckline has something of a vintage feel to it.
9/21 Dianna Agron in Lanvin
Glee star Dianna Agron opted for a red gown by Lanvin. The structural shapes on the bodice and wraparound skirt give it an extra edge that stops it becoming just another strapless dress.
10/21 Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Prada
British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw makes a very impressive BAFTA red carpet appearance in this lavender gown by Prada.
11/21 Lea Seydoux in Prada
Lea Seydoux provides a breath of fresh air in this show-stopping pleated gown by Prada. The capped sleeves and pleating are pretty editions whilst the cut-out sections on the midriff ensure it doesn't look old fashioned.
12/21 Felicity Jones in Dior haute couture
The young actress was lucky enough to wear this very special dress from the spring 2013 haute couture collection by Raf Simons for Christian Dior. The colour-block black and purple is a nice contrast from one-colour gowns and the flower embellishment is a pretty detail.
13/21 Reese Witherspoon in Stella McCartney
A real coup for designer Stella McCartney dressing one of the biggest stars of tonight's red carpets. Unfortunately, Reese’s purple number while nice in theory seems a little ahem ill-fitting shall we say on the bust area.
14/21 Keira Knightley in Giambattista Valli haute couture
It’s not easy to dress for formal occasions when you are expecting, however Keira Knightley has taken it in her stride with nothing less than a haute couture creation by Giambattista Valli. Extra points awarded for modern midi-length hemline and the leather jacket she arrived in.
15/21 Imelda Staunton in Vivienne Westwood
Whilst we have a lot of love for Imelda Staunton, we can’t quite extend that to her choice of dress for the evening. The ruffled green number in shiny satin bares quite the resemblance to an 80s prom dress, and not in a good way.
David M. Benett/Getty Images
16/21 Natalie Domer in Sophie Kah
Perhaps Natalie Dormer has been borrowing from the Game of Thrones’ costume department - it would go some way to explain the gloves she’s chosen to team with what is otherwise a perfectly lovely dress.
Ian Gavan/Getty Images
17/21 Laura Haddock in Ashlii Couture
Laura Haddock looks every inch the fairytale princess in this tulle layered gown. However pretty the dress is, it's undeniably slightly bridal.
18/21 Jenna Coleman in Rochas
The fabric may have an unfortunate likeness to curtains you might see at your Gran's, but the Rochas design complete with cut-out detail in the middle somehow still wins us over.
19/21 Monica Belluci in Alaia
The model and actress brought a large dose of Italian glamour to the ceremony in this simple but effortlessly stylish black dress by Alaia.
20/21 Kara Tointon in Julien Macdonald
It seems Kara Tointon is not yet ready to relinquish her Strictly Come Dancing crown, or at least this dress suggests she's clinging on to the costumes.
21/21 Laura Bailey in Emilia Wickstead
Brides-to-be looking for something modern take note of this Emilia Wickstead artfully modelled by Laura Bailey.
These things are connected. It was only when the National Theatre changed its programming that it started to attract a new BAME audience. So by unintentionally excluding BAME participation – or by being careless about ethnic diversity – the arts loses out on a massive audience.
Things have to change, because the arts should never be the preserve of any one group, because BAME young people have every much of a right to an artistic education as anyone else, because BAME people have just as fascinating and engaging stories as anyone else to tell, because the whole diversity of Britain should be represented on our screens and because the barriers to BAME access to the arts mean valuable British talent goes to waste.
That means change at every level. The decision-makers in the world of British film – the producers, the money guys, the directors and the state-subsidisers – need to allow more than a handful of BAME members into their club.
Commissioners need to search further than the leafy realms of Midsomer and 1950s Oxford and Cambridge for their settings. Every arts organisation that receives public money needs to get serious about ethnic diversity, searching out BAME talent and giving it a chance.
This matters. It is a matter of social equity. People who belong to ethnic minorities in the UK pay their licence fee and their taxes. They too should be able to expect that British films and British television reflect their lives.
But it also matters because it is about how we are seen around the world. We won the Olympics in part because we fielded a diverse team to secure the bid. Our history gives us an enormous cultural advantage, enabling us to reach out to every part of the world, but if our films only reflect one sliver of British life we shall have done ourselves a disservice.
Something I was told eight years ago in a bar in Chicago makes the point. One of the locals got talking with me. What did I think of American music, he asked. I liked it, I said, but pointed out that the music then playing was by Amy Winehouse, who was British. He abruptly told me that I was wrong. His evidence? The video for the song had black men in it. "And everybody knows there are no blacks in Britain."Reuse content