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Incredible Women

7 Incredible Women pushing for change and greater inclusivity in 2020 and beyond

Clockwise from top left: Munroe Bergdorf, Clara Amfo, Afua Hirsch (inset), Dina Asher-Smith, Grace Wales Bonner, Bernardine Evaristo, Thandie Newton

Seven brilliant and inspiring Black women talk to PORTER as we enter Black History Month UK, reflecting on what’s needed to achieve true diversity and inclusion in their industries

Thandie Newton, actor

“I started in the film industry 30 years ago, and it’s improved beyond recognition in front of the camera. But diversity and inclusion behind the camera is still appalling, and it’s definitely as important as on screen. Ava DuVernay insists on a Black-majority crew – I’d say easily 90 percent. I felt this crushing grief when I walked on to her set [for Jay-Z’s Family Feud music video]; in 30 years of being on film sets, I’d never experienced that kind of inclusion. It had also made me ignorant of what’s possible. We need individuals in authority who make it happen. It helps if that person in authority is Black and a woman, because they’re prepared for abusive, dismissive, negative behavior, and despite that, they know they’ve shattered glass ceilings before. They’re unstoppable. Those of us with any kind of authority must make demands about what we want to see in our place of business – both big and small.”

Bernardine Evaristo, author

“I started writing in the 1980s, when nobody was interested in published books by Black British women, so we set up our own press, Black Woman Talk. These are very different times and in the past few years there have been a lot more non-fiction, fiction and poetry books published from this community, but not nearly enough. The second wave of Black Lives Matter was a wake-up call to the publishing industry about the degree of discontent that existed about the ways in which Black people have been excluded as authors and employees, and I am hopeful that some of the presses are now taking this issue seriously. True equality means that all sections of society see themselves represented and totally integrated into our book culture. The next step is for the industry to put into place new systems to ensure this happens, and for them to be held to account when they don’t.”

Dina Asher-Smith, athlete

“In terms of athletes, people will be – and have always been – very diverse. Talent does not discriminate, so we have competitors and friends from all over the world, all with different life experiences and perspectives. But in terms of who makes up the staff of big governing bodies and those who work to make things come together behind the scenes, there is a lot to do there. [We should] see the gender and ethnic breakdown of those that work in the sport’s governance, and the business of our sport, reflect the diversity of the athletes and the world we operate in. We say that we are a truly global sport, but the business side [of athletics] needs to reflect that ideal as well. It will only make our sport better.”

Munroe Bergdorf, model, writer and activist

“We’ve come so far, but we still have so far to go… When I was growing up, visibility for Black trans models was minimal. I didn’t have access to a wide array of role models who looked like me, who I could see myself in, who I could be inspired by or draw strength from. I measured myself up to a cisgender, heterosexual beauty narrative that only exacerbated my gender dysphoria and feelings of shame. I’m happy to have seen that change occur in real time and hopefully I can be that person for some of the trans, Black and queer youth of today. But, even with visibility, diversity and inclusion at the forefront of many public discussions, it is still rare to see trans people and Black people calling the shots within the fashion and beauty industries. Yes, some of us may be getting booked, but are any of us doing the booking? Yes, some of us may be getting paid, but are we being paid fairly? We have some incredible community representatives breaking new ground, but true diversity runs throughout the industry. It isn’t enough to be the exception: diversity must become the standard if we hope for equality to become reality.”

Clara Amfo, broadcaster

“Since I started, I think my industry has made some progress when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but there is absolutely more to be done. Yes, audiences now have an increased number of non-white faces on their screens, but it shouldn’t just be about who is seen on screen. I want to see marginalized people hired for jobs that aren’t specifically tied to what makes them typically othered in society. Don’t just call on Black talent for Black History Month; don’t just call on queer people for Pride month. I did a job recently and I had my first Black camerawoman ever. I honestly couldn’t stop staring at her with happiness, but also with slight despair at the situation, as she shouldn’t have to be a unicorn-like figure. I’ve always maintained that industries should take a ‘from the post room to the boardroom’ approach. When only one group of people are the top decision-makers, what happens to everyone who doesn’t fit in that group? They become unicorns.”

Grace Wales Bonner, designer

“I established Wales Bonner in 2015, and I do think the landscape is quite different from what it looked like when I started the brand. That’s in terms of casting, but also representation of emerging brands from different backgrounds, which is encouraging – but I still think there is a long way to go. I believe that it is a time for collaboration, listening and understanding, as well as nurturing and supporting the next generation of talent. We need to pool together our knowledge, support and resources in the industry in order to do this.”

Afua Hirsch, writer and broadcaster

“I began my career in journalism working for The Voice, a Black newspaper. In those days, in the mid 1990s, it was one of the few places where Black journalists found a wide-open door and opportunities to hone their craft, make mistakes and develop their authentic voice. It served as an important springboard for Black journalists to enter the mainstream media, as well as a valuable resource in its own right. Seeing a new generation of online and social media – for us, by us – is one of the most encouraging elements of our brave new world. But the industry has not yet caught up to anything like the extent I assumed it would two decades ago. True representation would mean normalizing an intersectional and anti-racist gaze across genres and platforms. And for me, it would mean no longer having to talk about racism and equality, so that I could just get on with my creative passions instead.”

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