Will Britain’s creative industries keep pace with our changing face?
December 24, 2022/Featured, Social & Racial Equity
The latest census shows that the face of Britain is changing, but is this being reflected in how Britain shows up globally? The creative industries have a central role to play in creating a refreshed identity for modern Britain.
It’s official: The face of Britain is changing. Results from the recent national census reveal that Britain is more diverse than it’s ever been and all indications are that this trend will continue. However, from the outside looking in, you’d be forgiven for not recognising that this is the case, even with a British-Indian prime minister.
I grew up in a multicultural community in central London, being born just before the 2000s. A vast influx of global creative talent infiltrated my household through social media, the internet, film, and TV. Many of these influences were American and, having never been to the USA until earlier this year, it was my primary way of learning and understanding a country and culture outside of my own. Thanks to their creative and cultural industries I was able to gain a perspective into American culture and history which meant I am better able to connect with Americans online and in person. Similarly, here in the UK our creative industries can provide that window into our world, our lives, and our values that we project to those living abroad. But is the picture currently painted truly a reflection of Britain in 2022?
Britain has an embarrassment of globally-recognised creative talent. Music? There’s Adele, Elton John, Harry Styles. Fashion? Paul Smith, Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham. Theatre? There’s Andrew Lloyd Webber, Willy Russell. Film? Hugh Grant, Keira Knightly, Christopher Nolan. Art? Damien Hirst. Literature? J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman. Journalism? Louis Theroux. The list goes on, but the list still largely looks very much like old Britain and not yet like the Britain of our latest census.
Britain owes of a lot of its international appeal to its arts and cultural reputation. It also owes a lot of its economic power to its creative industries. To preserve its success, it’s time to forge a refreshed national identity, one where all of its cultural identities are highlighted and celebrated at home and abroad. It’s Britain’s creative industries (who create the lens through which our country and culture is projected around the world) that will have a leading role to play in crafting this refreshed vision of modern Britain.
Sofia Khan’s Diary
It’s not just significant for how Britain is seen abroad. It’s also important for how we in Britain see ourselves, even more so due to the shifting demographics. As a keen reader, I hadn’t seen myself represented in a story until two years ago when I stumbled upon Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged.
The protagonist is Sofia Khan, a British-Pakistani woman who grew up in Tooting and practiced her Islamic faith unapologetically while navigating life at home with her immigrant parents as well as a career in publishing in a predominantly white workplace. On top of it all, she was also discovering the trenches of the world of dating.
This story resonated strongly with me, and would still be relatable to other women who may not have much in common with Sofia’s lived experiences. Just like many of us have no lived experience of being a chain-smoking 30-something-year-old publisher – can you imagine if one day a British character like Sofia Khan ended up having the same global appeal and recognition as Bridget Jones?
That in itself is the beauty of the creative industry – no matter your background, art in itself can move and provoke us, and can translate beyond our own identities.
Who decides what Britain to project?
There is an opportunity for post-Elizabethan Britain to build on its global cultural relevance by remoulding its national identity.
To do so, we must first ask ourselves honest questions around whether we as a country truly recognise and value the power of our creative industries.
We should also interrogate with whom the creative, editorial, and financial power lies in these industries? Whose interests, visions, and experiences are they serving?
During a cost-of-living crisis, the question of how accessible the arts are to all segments of society should be front and centre, and what impact does exclusion from an arts education have on our nation’s potential to tell different and better stories?
Also, where diverse lives are depicted, are they being reflected authentically or tokenistically, are they being shown as being an inextricable part of the fabric of modern Britain, or are they othered?
If Britain’s creative industries are to lead the charge for modern Britain, then it itself needs to look at how it operates, often to the exclusion of people from underrepresented backgrounds. Careers in these industries often require expensive educations, low-paid or unpaid work in expensive cities like London, and a touch of nepotism too. These often form real barriers of entry in the industry for those who are the next generation of Brits – which makes the issue worse as they’re blocked from participating in the future of Britain’s creative output.
Partnering on policy
Sir Kier Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, recently introduced the Labour Creatives Network, pledging to combat issues faced within the industry by working with industry leaders and creatives.
In a room of 150 creative industry leaders and professionals, including Sir Patrick Stewart, Steven Moffatt, Sathnam Sanghera, and Sir Peter Bazalgette, he stated his intention to build a creative community where government, industry, and creatives worked in partnership to shape the policies and programmes that will enable Britain’s creative industries to continue to thrive.
Speaking at the launch, Lucy Powell, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “Our creative and cultural sectors put us on the map, showcasing and selling our talents abroad and giving meaning to our lives here at home.”
Delighted to launch the Labour Creatives network with @Keir_Starmer – a place in Labour for creatives, and for the creative industries to engage with us as we make plans to grow these successful British sectors which contribute so much to our national life and economy. /1 pic.twitter.com/ec3pzb9TNH
Acknowledging that Britain can’t rest on the success of its international reputation, she added: “We have to ensure that we’ve got the right policies in place… that we have a creative curriculum, and pathways for those who don’t ordinarily get into [the sector], that we spread the opportunities across the country, and understand that culture is at the heart of making great places that people are proud of.”
This is a positive step and a recognition that, as much as creative success can start from the underground, go mainstream, and then international, policymakers in government and power-holders in industry need to do more to create the right environment for the kind of creative talent that will go on to represent Britain now and in the future to enter the industry and to truly thrive.
In the film and TV sector alone, a lot of Black and Asian British front-of-camera talent have spent time away from the UK (some permanently) in order to further their careers: Idris Elba, Riz Ahmed, David Oyelowo, Daniel Kaluuya, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw to name just a few. If our creative industries fail to keep pace with the changing face of Britain, our country will truly be doing an injustice to itself.
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