By Wa’qaar Mirza
While many would argue that there is now more diversity in the industry than ever before—whether that is through the representation of women, people of color, other gender or sexual identities, or religious beliefs—with a starting position of nil, we’ve hardly made progress at all.
My story of getting into film and television was a challenging one. In 1970s England, as a brown young Muslim man with no connections in the industry, it proved impossible to open any doors in the production industry I longed to join. Dejected, I left film behind, and joined the corporate world where I was lucky enough to forge myself a successful career in banking. But the power and importance of film never left me, and I started to see movies as a way of helping charities with which I was working raise their profile and much needed funds for their causes. Seeing this have a positive impact from both an educational and fund-raising perspective, I decided it was time to make a much bigger part of my life, co-founding Safi Ideas.
For 20 years, diversity and inclusion have been at the heart of what we do. Our mantra has always been to produce film and television content that can do good in the world through education, awareness and understanding.
Our desire to address big issues in the industry led to our latest project, an animated preschool series Zayn & Zayna’s Little Farm, which tells the story of a British Muslim family that runs a farm through fun-packed engaging content and music. Kevin Clark’s “How to move beyond tokenism” piece, which talked about the lack of diversity in children’s programming, resonated very strongly with us—in particular, the idea that creators and broadcasters think that they are addressing the diversity of the real world by using a mix of animal species, rather than authentic human characters of different racial, religious, sexual and other backgrounds. They are not, and that needs to change. Children need to see and learn about the diversity of the human race from as young an age as possible.
Broadcasters often fool themselves believing that by having a diverse group of children’s presenters, they are addressing diversity. Of course, it is great to see diversity on camera, but preschool programming itself falls way short of the bar on this issue.
I don’t know what it is like to be a young black man trying to get in the industry today; I do believe there has been changes in diversity, even if more is needed. But in terms of commissioning, broadcasters need to stop playing safe when it comes to pre-school children’s programming. Let’s show diversity in its true form, not through foam body suits and talking animals. It is only by doing this that we can start honest and open conversations about the wonderful diversity in the modern world, while stopping the prejudices and misrepresentation that still exist today.
I hope nobody experiences the knock backs I did as a young man trying to get into the industry. But we must remember that it is not just about jobs: Creatives, programme makers, commissioners and broadcast executives all need to think about what diversity means in their role, to the industry and the end audience. It’s time for some bravery, let’s grab the nettle and stop simply talking the talk.
Wa’qaar Mirza is the co-founder and global CEO of Safi Ideas.