Actor Henry tells of hostile tweets


Published: Wednesday 31st December 2014 by The News Editor

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Work in the UK has “simply dried up” for black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) actors, according to Lenny Henry.

The comedian guest-edited BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, when the on-air line-up was altered to ensure every member of the team was from a black or ethnic minority background.

Henry wrote in a piece for The Guardian how he received hostile tweets afterwards and he said black and Asian journalists were “simply not getting the breaks”.

He added: “Whereas I have only dipped my toe into news, I know much more about another part of the creative industries – acting. And here in the UK, work has simply dried up for Bame actors. People such as David Oyelowo, Idris Elba, Thandie Newton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Cush Jumbo aren’t getting the offers one might expect. Colour-blind casting hasn’t quite caught on in the UK, so jobs in high-end drama are dribbling away.”

In yesterday’s programme, regular presenter Mishal Husain was joined by Nkem Ifejika, with Reeta Chakrabarti reading the news, and Jay Wynne presenting the weather.

Linda Yueh was handling the business news while Karthi Gnanasegaram presented the sport.

Henry challenged Culture Secretary Sajid Javid on whether the next BBC charter should include minimum targets for diversity among staff and on-screen talent, but agreed with the Cabinet minister that simple quotas would be ineffective.

Henry said in the Guardian article that he was “very nervous” running the programme.

He said: “I knew that the listening public can judge the guest-editing of their flagship news programme harshly. On Tuesday, Twitter was ablaze with criticisms of my tenure and choice of subject matter.

“There was a lot of ‘Len’s a racist’, ‘Len’s got a chip on his shoulder’, too. One stood out: ‘The sooner Lenny Henry gets Ebola the better.’ I could have taken it personally, but what this reaction told me was just how unusual a diverse perspective on the news – that doesn’t come from the typical white, middle-class man – can be, and what a shock to the system it is.

“The irony is that I don’t mind being criticised for editing the Today programme. The fact is, I’m a comedian. I shouldn’t be editing the Today programme. I don’t have the necessary skills, judgment and insight required to do a fantastic job. But the other fact is that there are many other black and Asian people with those necessary skills who are simply not getting the breaks.

“Black people, Asians and minority ethnics make up 14.3% of the UK’s population. London is 40% Bame. Yet employment of Bame in the creative industries has fallen to 5.4% – the lowest it’s ever been. Since 2009, about 2,000 Bame people have left the industry. In this same period, employment has grown by 4,000. That means, statistically, for every black and Asian that has left the industry, two white people have been given employment.”

The solution was about employing people on their merits, he said, adding: “What I find frustrating is the complete absence of opportunity in some fields.”

Published: Wednesday 31st December 2014 by The News Editor

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