The future for black and Asian film is bright

From the Royal Society for the Arts Young Entrepreneurs lecture, given by Parminder Vir, the film and television producer, in London
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The Independent Online

BABYMOTHER IS a reggae musical featuring 12 original songs - all written and produced by authentic artists - Carroll Thompson, Beres Hammond, Bubblers, Cinderella, Thrilla Jenna - and a young black cast. For all, it was their first screen experience. They had to be able to dance, sing and act. It was shot on one of the most notorious housing estates in the UK - Stonebridge Estate in west London, which is now being redeveloped. Babymother employed a mixed workforce - black and white teams. I underestimated the challenges of that.

Making a "black" film set in a community bought another set of demands, expectations and fears from all around me - financiers, cast, crew ,the community and the audience. Like, how to explain street culture with its own codes and value systems.

What has the film Babymother done for me? Above all, it has allowed me to play a part in shaping the new British film industry. Through being on the Board of the new Film Council, I hope my experience will make it easier for other people, especially from ethnic minorities, to make films. I want to talk about the challenges to the British film industry - through the new Film Council, Greg Dyke's new BBC Films, FilmFour, Lottery franchises and so on.

I want to see black and Asian filmmaking talent as part of British film culture and not as a separate cinema. The irony is that Babymother - about a single mum trying to make it as a singer -was promoted as "black film" and therefore seen as something separate here in the UK. But when the film was shown abroad it was viewed as a British film.

I want to see to it that black and Asian films should not be assessed only in terms of purely cultural and political criteria but also in terms of their commercial potential.

Diversity makes good business sense; ethnic minorities constitute 8 per cent of the UK's population and 25 per cent of the population in London. To date all black and Asian-themed films have been financed by FilmFour. I would like see a shift in the green-lighting of these films from one institution to the many channels of film finance available to British film-makers. A part of this strategic thinking is having a culturally diverse workforce at senior executive levels. Currently none exists at the British Screen, British Film Institute, FilmFour, the BBC or the Lottery-funded franchises. A diversity of film practice, storylines, and talent development depends on a diversity of decision-makers. There is in my view no argument for a separate fund to support black, Asian, ethnic minority or "cultural" film-making. Why? Because embracing diversity makes good business and creative sense. Its vital to see the vitality, originality and energy of our nation's diverse talent reflected on and behind the screen.

There is a huge, wealthy audience out there that we cannot afford to lose: a quarter of London's population is non-white - it contributes £32bn to the economy. Some 80 per cent of the group is aged between 16-35, influential, with huge disposable wealth.

The two-million strong Asian audience in the UK has turned Bollywood flops into box-office hits. Three Asian tycoons alone are worth £10.6bn. There are also new markets - local and international. The Asian diaspora consist of around 120 million people, many of whom are connected via the internet and by telephone. Their wealth extends from Europe to North America. Similarly, the black population of North America is around 30 million-strong.

Ethnic minorities are also a source of talent and storylines. For the past two years we have seen two Asian directors nominated for Oscars. The next decade will see a burst of stories as young Asian and black film-makers take control of the new technologies and tell their stories. It will make it easier. We need to be a part of that.

Finally, I want to finish by saying I am still making films and also producing drama for Carlton Television. It does get easier - people return your calls and they read your scripts, but the bottom line is still the story.

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