Lenny Henry says BBC risk losing BAME viewers to streaming services like Netflix 


Sir Lenny Henry has called for the BBC and other traditional broadcasters to follow the lead of Netflix in casting actors that represent Britain’s ethnic diversity.

The actor and comedian, 62, who has been on our screens for forty years, said that he still felt ‘very lonely’ in the industry as someone from a minority background.

In his new book which examines issues of race and diversity in British TV Sir Lenny warned that the BBC that it could find itself losing black and asian viewers to on-demand streaming services that ‘do a better job at representing their lives’, The Times reported.

The Comic Relief co-founder wrote: ‘If British broadcasters don’t tackle the diversity grey rhino now, they run the risk of losing large parts of their audience forever.’

Sir Lenny Henry, 62, has called for the BBC and other traditional broadcasters to follow the lead of Netflix in casting actors that represent Britain’s ethnic diversity

He told how one in five Britons will be from a black, asian or minority ethnic background by 2031.

Sir Lenny added that research had shown this segment of society were watching on-demand streaming services more than others as they feel the shows ‘do a better job at representing their lives’ than terrestrial broadcasters such as The BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV.     

The actor makes the call for diversity in all aspects of TV, on screen and behind the camera, in his new book, Access All Areas: The Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond, which was co-written by Marcus Ryder, a media diversity expert, and will be released on Thursday by Faber. 

Bridgerton, on Netflix, is based on Julia Quinn's best-selling novels and follows the romance between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), pictured

Bridgerton, on Netflix, is based on Julia Quinn’s best-selling novels and follows the romance between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), pictured

Bridgerton depicts the wife of King George III as black, based on a disputed theory that she was of African descent. Queen Charlotte is played by British actress Golda Rosheuvel, 49

Bridgerton depicts the wife of King George III as black, based on a disputed theory that she was of African descent. Queen Charlotte is played by British actress Golda Rosheuvel, 49

Recent examples of the streaming service Netflix having succeeded in casting a more diverse range of actors than broadcasters such as ITV can be seen in it’s hit show Bridgerton, which is set in early 19th century London and held colour-blind casting calls.

The period drama, which is based on Julia Quinn’s best-selling novels, follows the romance between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page, a British-Zimbabwean actor) and has been tipped to become the next Downton Abbey after it enjoyed a successful launch on the streaming site this Christmas.     

In the show King George III’s wife Queen Charlotte is black, played by British actress Golda Rosheuvel, 49, with Ms Quinn, the author, backing the ‘colour-conscious’ casting and adding that ‘many historians’ believe Queen Charlotte had ‘some African background’.

Reviews of Bridgerton have been very positive. It was described by the Daily Mail's Weekend Magazine as 'a rollicking romp of a show full of froth, escapism and romance'

Reviews of Bridgerton have been very positive. It was described by the Daily Mail’s Weekend Magazine as ‘a rollicking romp of a show full of froth, escapism and romance’

Sir Lenny appeared to take a swipe at the lack of diversity in ITV’s hit show Downton Abbey, which has a largely white cast, writing in his book that the nominee list at the Royal Television Society’s annual awards was like ‘a Downton Abbey Christmas special’, The Times reported.

The comedian said more needed to be done to increase the number of minority writers, producers and directors, behind the camera – as well as on screen. He added that only having diversity on-screen was ‘fake diversity’. 

Netflix said it intends to increase diversity across its programming schedule as it aims to be a ‘force for good’, with the goal of minority background actors playing at least 20 per cent of speaking roles and holding at least one writing, producing or directing, role on each show.

It hopes the content will meet the demands of a ‘diverse audience’ and attract younger viewers to the subscription service. 

At the BBC the goal for off-camera contributions by ethnic minorities is 20 per cent, however it currently stands at 10 per cent. At ITV 11.5 per cent of individuals holding off-screen roles are from minority backgrounds, The Times reports.

Anne Mensah, Netflix’s vice-president of original series who used to work for the BBC and joined Netflix in 2018, told The Guardian: ‘We’ve got to get to a place where if somebody is doing something that doesn’t take an inclusive approach that should be surprising to you.

‘It should be like washing your hands; it should be just what you do.’

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