Equity launches Non-UK-Born Artists Network

Following a highly successful motion at this year’s London AGM, Equity is launching an official Non-UK-Born Artists Network that will represent the interests of its thousands of foreign-born members, expand the equality debate and work towards a culture shift in the industry and society as a whole. 

The inaugural meeting will take place on Thursday, 01 October 2020, at 14:00 via Zoom. Both members and non-members interested in joining the Network (and not already signed up to the previous mailing list set up by Amy Dawson) can sign up via the official Network email address: nukba@equity.org.uk

Almost 10 million people in the UK were born abroad. That is 14% or 1 in 7. In London, it is a staggering 37% or more than 1 in 3. Despite some very encouraging progress in the industry on diversity overall, non-UK-born talent both on- and off-stage and -screen remain vastly underrepresented, experience a wide range of discriminatory practices and are virtually never mentioned in any equality efforts. Both “nationality” and “national origin” are protected characteristics under the UK Equality Act.

Apart from the establishment of a Network, the motion also asked for the development of guidelines in dialogue with decision makers on how to make the industry more inclusive of non-UK-born artists, as well as for their inclusion in Equity policies and agreements alongside other supported groups, for example the Manifesto for Casting

As the Network begins its campaign work towards greater and fairer representation, some of its key goals are:

  • More stage, screen and audio content created by non-UK-born creatives, so that communities of non-British origin are given a voice and see themselves represented too.
  • Greater consideration for leading roles, going beyond tokenism and reflecting actual population statistics. As an example, close to 1 million Poles live in the UK, yet it is exceptionally rare to find a single Polish actor in a major role.
  • Greater incidental casting, where non-UK-born actors are considered more seriously for roles other than those of their national origin and every unspecified role is no longer cast as ‘British by default’.
  • A more balanced portrayal of non-UK-born characters and their storylines, including greater care in writing, casting and directing, in order to enhance authenticity and avoid stereotyping.
  • Educating the industry about the cultural and commercial value that diversity of national origin can bring to a production, and about its responsibility towards society as a whole in the way the various communities living in the UK are portrayed, or whether they are portrayed at all.

In order to support the campaign, a working group collected some initial data in early 2020 by reviewing the main casts of all continuing dramas as listed on the broadcasters’ websites. As an example, 29% of doctors and 18% of nurses in the NHS England were non-British nationals, compared to only 4% of the main casts across medical dramas, while 0% were non-English native speakers. The aim is to collect more data across all media to provide hard evidence that the industry still has a very long way to go in order to truly reflect the multinational society we live in.

A previous Equity Zoom meeting for non-UK-born members was held on 16 July 2020. The event sold out within a few days. Attendees shared numerous personal experiences of discrimination both in their professions and in day-to-day life. It was a hugely successful event that further stressed the need for officially creating a Non-UK-Born Artists Network within the trade union.