The theme of diversity and inclusion is at the heart of this year’s European Film Market Online Industry Sessions, taking place under the banner ‘Shaping Change’.
Themba Bhebhe, who leads diversity and inclusion for the EFM, has put together a series of in-depth discussions, podcasts and special initiatives tackling issues such as the inequalities between North and South in film as well as than the exclusion of the underrepresented. film industry groups.
Bhebhe, who is from the UK, joined EFM four years ago after a decade working in international film sales at companies such as Pathé International. He is also co-founder of Programmers of Color Collective (POC2).
Under his leadership, the EFM has spearheaded initiatives such as the Doc and Fiction Toolbox programs and the Online Market Badge Inclusion Initiative for creatives from marginalized and underrepresented groups.
He speaks with Screen about gatekeeper accountability, the lack of people of color in sales, and the urgent need for structural change.
You worked in international sales for nearly a decade, what inspired you to take on this role and openly advocate for more inclusion and diversity?
I had the privilege of entering sales at a time when the emphasis was on international films. I soon learned that the staff mix in this sector was not ethnically diverse. Although there was a geographic distribution, most of the people working in these companies were white. Very few of the people portraying the films looked like the characters in those films.
For me, it was really a revelation. I was very lucky to be able to break into this particular ecosystem because I didn’t fit this profile at all.
Do you think you are making progress now that you are four years old in your EFM role?
At first, my job was to shine a light on inclusion in terms of profitability, but it has now shifted to empowerment of guardians. My job is to remind decision-makers that diverse teams perform better than homogeneous teams. The fact that movies with diverse casts above a certain budget category outperform movies with less diverse casts at the box office. These are statistically proven facts.
I have made strides through EFM initiatives such as the Doc and Fiction Toolbox programs and the Online Market Badge Inclusion Initiative because they have truly created access for marginalized groups.
What are the main challenges?
We have all realized that there will be no substantial change without a change in the working culture of the industry. This means structural change: a redistribution of decision-making power to make it more inclusive and collaborative.
If an organization is on the surface “diverse” but does not provide any form of access to film professionals with disabilities or employs many women or non-binary staff but they experience pay gaps and rarely hold decision-making positions. Or if black, indigenous, and other people of color are only brought into this organization with advisory or temporary positions or face institutional marginalization every day while in full-time employment, then, for all For these reasons, diversity is only superficial, and it amounts to little more than signaling virtue and appropriating the language of inclusion at the expense of true equity.
What initiatives and exchanges have you put in place for this online EFM?
We strive to create a level playing field for film professionals and to give underrepresented groups a passage. This year’s theme is “Shaping Change”. There are excellent discussions of the relationship between the Global North, marginalized groups and the South in terms of cinema.
We have the EFM Online Marketplace Badge Inclusion Initiative which provides access to individuals and organizations advocating for marginalized and Global South film professionals. The Doc and Fiction Toolbox programs include a toolkit of business connections and know-how for documentary and narrative filmmakers from marginalized groups and/or countries in the Global South.
I’m also excited about two podcasts we’ll be releasing. An episode is devoted to accessibility for cinema professionals with disabilities in partnership with the BFI. The other episode is in partnership with imagineNATIVE, the world’s largest Indigenous film festival, and focuses on Indigenous film criticism and the effect of the shortage of Indigenous film critics on how Indigenous-directed films are broadcast.
In your opinion, to what extent is the international film industry engaging with the issue of diversity and inclusion or just speaking out?
I actually think we need to first and foremost rethink who we imagine we belong to in the international film industry, because that in itself is a major stumbling block. What we consider minorities are collectively global majorities.
Are we talking about the vast circuit of queer film festivals, distributors, platforms and channels globally? Or the networks of disabled filmmakers working in all fields? Are we talking about Nollywood and the gigantic Nigerian, African and black diasporas who consume it? Bollywood and South Asian and crossover audiences around the world? The dozens of organizations that ensure the industry remains accessible, sustainable, and safe for women and non-binary people?
In the same way that it is invalid and frankly often offensive to speak of “niche” audiences in an ecosystem comprising a multiplicity of audiences with different listening profiles, we can no longer speak of “industry” as of a monolith.
You are also the co-founder of the Programmers of Color Collective (POC2) – can you tell us a bit about that?
I co-founded POC2 alongside Lucy Mukerjee, Hussain Currimbhoy and Paul Struthers. The collective began around 2018 and was inspired by the work of Black Girl Doc Mafia Collective founder Iyabo Boyd.
Many color film professionals have been shut out of the mainstream industry. That’s why we started creating their own groups and networks to reframe the discussion. When there are plenty of talented BIPOC programmers in our industry, there’s simply no excuse for all-white programming teams.
We wanted to bring them together as a community and stand up for them. Although we continue to grow, with over 300 members, we have come a long way. We’ve become a resource for festivals looking to diversify their teams who share job openings with our members, and we’ve begun to build bridges for emerging programmers through fellowships with festivals.
Why is it so important to have a diverse and representative film industry?
A seminal image is of the murder of George Floyd, with air being forced out of his lungs for eight minutes and 46 seconds. But Floyd was not a singular case, he was part of a centuries-old tradition of dehumanizing black bodies. A tradition in which the cinema participated.
The film industry only reflects society at large and films inform society, but also reflect the dominant views of dominant groups. As a film industry, we are responsible for negative portrayals, past and present, of marginalized people on screen. These images have consequences in the real world.
In many ways, the classic Western genre often presented Native American genocide as a symmetrical war between two equal opposing forces. The film industry must wake up and take responsibility. But it’s not enough. We also need restorative justice around these images, and films and series like Raoul Peck’s magnum opus Exterminate all bullies and that of Sam Feder Disclosure try to restore this balance, by restoring our image and our dignity.