Online movements such as #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite shone a much-needed spotlight on issues surrounding inequality and abuse of power in the film industry. Although primarily based on sexist and racist practices entrenched in Hollywood, these declarations encouraged conversations and examinations of the film industry worldwide, urging individuals and organizations everywhere to act fairly and responsibly.
In the UK, the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) have been supporting and celebrating underrepresented British film and talent since 1998; inclusive practices are part of their identity. BIFA continues to show their commitment to not just uphold, but also champion these values. Most recently, they implemented an extensive ongoing initiative to make the voting process fairer. A key part of this is their Unconscious Bias Training, which was first developed in collaboration with Challenge Consultancy in 2018.
Unconscious bias is the learned stereotypes that human beings acquire through socialization and the media, often resulting in skewed opinions of minority groups. It is automatic, subtle, and pervasive; all human beings have varying degrees of unconscious bias. However, many are unaware of how their own unconscious biases operate, even though it can have a significant impact on our behaviour, from decisions made in the hiring process to who gets to talk in team meetings. Recognizing the affect that unconscious bias has on creative decision-making, BIFA made the course mandatory for all their members, before working with ScreenSkills to make the sessions more widely available to voting bodies across the UK in 2019.
One year later, the UK went into lockdown following the spread of COVID-19, and conversations surrounding anti-racism became more urgent following the murder of African American citizen George Floyd by a white US police officer over an alleged counterfeit bill. During this time, BIFA recognized not only a need to help individuals whose employment had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, but also the importance of making a timely contribution to the education of those working in the industry, and so they made multiple online sessions free to attend.
I was fortunate enough to get a place on one of these highly-sought-after sessions, which was attended by people from all corners of the UK film industry. We learnt about what unconscious bias is (and isn’t), different types of bias such as affinity, which is when humans gravitate towards others that they perceive as being ‘like’ them, and recency (we recall things that happened more recently better than what happened in the distant past, which skews our perception and opinion of certain events) and were given examples of how this can impact our day-to-day lives, as well as the film industry specifically.
The session was interactive, thought-provoking and empowering, emphasizing that with practice, we can become aware of our own unconscious biases and work to alter them. It helps us to ensure that we are conducting ourselves as fairly as possible when it comes to creative decision-making in the workplace and elsewhere.
Training sessions such as this are integral to the future of the UK film industry. Alongside a global pandemic that has had a significant impact on the film business worldwide, we have witnessed a shift in consciousness surrounding social injustice and inequality. Recognizing our own unconscious bias and working to eradicate it so that we can work in more inclusive workplaces, encourage trust and transparency, engage in more innovative, diverse discussions, and make more informed decisions is key not just for the future of our industry, but for a world that is itself in recovery.
BIFA have Unconscious Bias Training sessions available to book until March 2021. They also provide bespoke sessions for individual organizations. To find out more, click here: https://www.bifa.film/event/unconscious-bias-training-2020/