In June 2020, Matchbox Cineclub hosted a roundtable for Scalarama Glasgow to discuss how organisations, independent exhibitors and programmers can work to make their programmes and events sincerely inclusive. Invited to speak about their work for and with Black and ethnic minority audiences, their experience of institutional racism and the increasing demand for sincere and lasting change to take hold in our industry were Anthony Andrews (We Are Parable), Umulkhayr Mohamed (freelance consultant, writer, curator), Clare Reddington (Bristol’s Watershed) and Toki Allison (Film Hub Wales’ Inclusive Cinema). Writing for The Bigger Picture, Umulkhayr Mohamed outlines how we can all help educate, interrogate our institutions and inform develop practical ways to overhaul the sector.
I guess if I had to summarise the world we find ourselves in post the 25th May 2020 I would describe it as one that is (finally) beginning to veer in a different direction in its attempts to challenge societal apathy towards structural racism. This veering is being driven by a sense of disgust that Black lives still need to be fought for, as well as a want to evolve beyond a focus on surface-level change that ultimately does nothing but uphold white privilege. We are now starting to see how this change in direction is articulating itself in relation to film exhibition.
One snapshot of this being the Scalarama Scotland led industry roundtable held two weekends ago on the familiar theme of Inclusion. The shift in direction however was clear from the beginning of the conversation which included an acknowledgement that is too often missing when we find ourselves collectively discussing the impact of racial inequality within a social context of heightened awareness and concern. That is how the emotional weight of these discussions weigh heavier on those of us with lived experience.
A commitment to change
Anthony Andrews from We Are Parable opened the conversation by sharing how since the beginning of We Are Parable, cultural relevancy has underpinned their programming choices and driven them to foster a sense of community for their audiences at their screenings. Shifting their approach from inclusion to centring the experience of Black audiences has lead to real, sustained engagement from audiences. We Are Parable’s commitment to Black audiences highlights that in this reflective time, the rest of the sector needs to reflect and be truthful about the work that it does.
Following Anthony, was myself, a freelancer in the sector who was asked to share my thoughts on how whiteness informs the work that we do and what we need to reconsider in our approach to counteract this. I touched on how programming choices that other cinema made by ‘non-white’ people serves to maintain the myth that whiteness is neutral, as well as how my experience of western professionalism has lead me to understand it as something that is intrinsically connected to White Supremacy. While it ended with sharing how the work that needs to be done to address all of this will lead to uncomfortable feelings for white people in the sector, this is necessary for accountability and progress.
Continuing on the topic of what accountability looks like, Clare Reddington from Watershed shared with us how, as an organisation, they responded to the Black Lives Matter call to action with clear and public commitments to change, starting with an honest expression of the mistakes the organisation has made in its past. The impact of Covid-19 may slow our ability to implement changes, but that doesn’t mean we cannot spend this time preparing to do so as soon as circumstances allow.
Finishing the line up of speakers was Toki Allison from Inclusive Cinema who shared the many rich and accessible resources created by people of colour that Inclusive Cinema have been collaborated with. As we all strive to help the sector educate itself, it is clear that change won’t happen it the industry remains passive. You can access these resources here, and when you do I’d implore you to consider the emotional labour that went into developing them.
Although there is much more that could be shared, I would encourage you to watch the full conversation for yourself below, and keep the momentum as part of your on-going work.
The next monthly roundtable, focussing on accessibility for online and IRL screenings takes place on Sunday 19th July, on Zoom. Details via the Facebook page, here.