Eastenders, one of the UK’s most popular TV shows and considered by many to be Britain’s best soap opera, has recently come under fire for its underrepresentation of non-white members of the community.
The popular soap, which this month celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, has been criticised by the BBC Trust for not transforming with the times to accurately depict a modern Britain – specifically London – which is incredibly diverse.
Following research into the ethnic diversity of the east London region that the show is based upon, the BBC Trust found that “there are almost twice as many white people living in [EastEnders'] fictional E20 as in real life E17."
The Trust also said that the show "isn't a documentary and has to appeal to audiences throughout the UK".
However, the show’s producer, Dominic Treadwell-Collins, is adamant that he will not be pressured into increasing the shows diversity just to satisfy quotas. In a defiant statement Mr Treadwell-Collins said: “When someone starts imposing editorial decisions, we fight back. We know what we’re doing.” He added, “The day I start box-ticking is the day I leave.”
Characters Patrick Trueman and Kim Fox
Of course the show’s characters are not all white - there is Patrick Trueman and the Masood family among others – but the point is that there are simply not enough BAME characters given that the show is supposedly set in present-day east London.
MTV presenter and comedian Richard Blackwood will add to the racial diversity of the show when he makes his debut later this month as Albert Square’s new villain. Blackwood has revealed his excitement over the new role, saying: “EastEnders is a show I’ve grown up watching so to film on Albert Square is something I’ll never get used to."
MTV presenter, comedian and former singer Richard Blackwood
will join the Eastenders cast later this month
Mr Treadwell-Collins has also expressed his joy at having Blackwood join the show. “Richard has always been on our EastEnders wish list – and now the perfect part has come along," said the Eastenders boss. He continued, "He’s an authentic Londoner and a terrific actor, bringing with him warmth, humour and energy which will add so many layers to this 21st century EastEnders villain [...] The status quo in the Square is about to be well and truly shaken.”
There is a growing general consensus that British TV needs to work harder to increase on-screen diversity and thereby accurately reflect the incredibly diverse face of contemporary Britain.
Both Channel 4 and Sky have set diversity targets which must be met by all new shows and the BBC looks set to follow. Last year the BBC director general Tony Hall pledged that by 2017 15% of the BBC’s on-air staff would be BAME (up from the current 10.4%).
Mr Hall, who admitted that the BBC had “to do more” to improve representation, announced that £2.1million will be spent on a fast-track scheme and new diversity committee, which will work to get more non-white actors on-screen.