3 October 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTA Screen: Dynamic | Diverse – Insight into captivating first edition at Light House Cinema
02 Dec 2022 : Nathan Griffin
IFTA Screen: Dynamic | Diverse
Yesterday, Thursday 1st December, The Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA), in partnership with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), presented IFTA Screen: Dynamic | Diverse at the Light House Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin.

The Forum featured inspiring discussions, insights, sharing of international knowledge and best practice with industry professionals and guests from diverse backgrounds across film, television, and academia.

Welcoming the Panellists and guests, IFTA CEO Áine Moriarty said: "This inaugural event is the first in a series of our discussions and forums to help provide a platform and space for engagement that encourages artistic development across diverse communities within the screen industries, exploring visibility and representation, and looking to Best International Practice in this area.”

The Academy will host further events throughout 2023 (the Academy's milestone 20th Anniversary Year). Moriarty went on to introduce each of the Panellists, and their areas of expertise within the screen industry and handed over to the Panel Host Maureen Hughes to kick-start the first discussion. Thursday’s event saw two panel discussions followed by a Networking Lunch.

The First Panel SEEN & HEARD featured a diverse array of Irish and International talent who shared their insights and experiences working in film & television, in front of and behind the camera, both here and abroad.  The panel featured actors Demi Isaac Oviawe (The Young Offenders, The School for Good & Evil) and Ryan Lincoln (Kin, Michael Inside, Kissing Candice); Marissa Aroy (Director Producer Sikhs in America); and Joshua Donoghue (Writer/producer/actor - Happily Ever After, Space Between); and was moderated by casting director Maureen Hughes (Love/Hate, Once, Taken Down). The panel discussed their careers to date, their experiences in the sector, and explored what works and what needs improving in the industry.

Hughes asked the panellists if they think Ireland has improved as a country in terms of giving opportunities to people from diverse backgrounds., which prompted an array of thought-provoking responses.

Lincoln, who is best known for his role as Kem in the hit RTE drama Kin, as well as roles in titles such as the record-breaking Cardboard Gangsters, Broken Law, and Michael Inside, has been open about the lack of famous Irish people of colour when he was growing up but was largely positive about the changes made while outlining that there was much work to be done, saying: “I would say in short, yes. Is fully there yet? No, I don't think so. But the work is being done, which is the main thing. Even since I started working or let’s say Cardboard Gangsters six years ago, there are a lot more people from ethnic backgrounds in the industry, as well as people from the Irish working class, from small town Ireland, and just people that maybe hadn't had as much representation a few years ago. Is it clean? is a perfect? Probably not but it’s improved for sure.”

On the same point Demi Isaac Oviawe had a different view. Best known as Linda Walsh in the RTÉ and BBC comedy The Young Offenders, Netflix’s The School for Good & Evil, and the ITV adaptation of Graham Norton’s Holding, the Cork actress pointed towards what she sees a lack of diversity still on Irish screens particularly in terms of television saying:

It’s very obvious when you look at certain shows. I live in a council estate and I’ve always lived there. I live with working class people. I have friends from different backgrounds and I’m not just talking about the being black or Jamaican or Nigerian, I’m talking Eastern European, I’m talking about my best friends in the travelling community. It’s what I grew up with, I have friends of different sexual orientations. It’s normal to me. But when you watch shows on tv and it’s supposed to give a representation of what it’s like in Ireland …and it actually maddens me because there’s nothing and it’s frustrating.”

Oviawe went on to compare the situation here with that in the UK, which she sees as much stronger in platforming diversity. “I grew up watching English television and soaps and seeing people like me and I wondered why isn’t it like that here? I felt I couldn’t be an actor here because there was no one like me on tv here. But when I found out my character on Young Offenders wis supposed to be white before they cast me, I felt that was a win for minorities but I don’t think things have changed fast enough.”

Joshua Donoghue, who comes from the traveling community, and has written, produced and starred in four short films, and is about to make the move in to feature filmmaking, explained the need for people to tell their own stories or as he put it: “Instead of being someone else's fit, why don't I just be my own fit and write a role for myself.

He also explained the issue of pigeon-holding and stereotyping as even when he gets non-traveller roles, it is often suggested that the role be rewritten now that he was cast, even though by his own admission he may be the worst person to make that change for: “I'm getting offered work roles but my only problem is that I don't necessarily want to play a traveller  - I'm doing that every single day in my life -  don't want to go on screen and play the exact same person that I'm playing. I've already done that.”

“I think I had to turn down seven roles this year, just because of the traveller thing. I had someone come up to me before, and they were like ‘we have a perfect role for you. Someone dropped out. The Character was from the settled Community’. But then they said: ‘we really want to make the role a traveller now, because you're involved’. And I said the traveller community doesn't even think I sound like a traveller. So I'm like the worst person you could cast. And people tell me I don't look like one either. So I'm definitely the worst person you can cast!”

The importance of telling your own story was echoed by Marissa Aroy. A filmmaker, Fulbright Scholar, and Emmy award winner for the documentary Sikhs in America. Marisa is editorial director of Future Rising, ran Irish Screen America, and spent 7 years working the San Francisco Irish Film Festival, lectures in film at Trinity College Dublin, and sits on the board of Women in Film and Television, Ireland. Aroy has been living in Ireland for the past three years. She says representation is currently only on a surface level and that we have to look at who is telling the stories and who is commissioning them for things to improve faster.

I see surface representation. And while that's the beginning of something, it's important for us to be able to see ourselves in, but it's a surface representation. So who is telling the stories? That’s a different question and I've learned from being in the US that it takes me telling my story, me getting it out in the community, for me to be one of the people in power. I only have power over my own story and trying to get that out. But I don't see anybody else wanting to fund me, and certainly not somebody who's not in my community.”

The Second Panel focused on Best International Practise, which saw Industry stakeholders from Ireland and the UK who have taken the lead on diversity and inclusion discussing best practices and the practical application thereof.

The panel featured Dr Zélie Asava who is a lecturer, author, and public speaker on race, gender, and representation in screen studies. Her first book, The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities in Irish Film and Television, is the first major study of black and mixed-race themes in Irish Screen Studies. She is the driving force behind a series of projects focused on questions of race, gender, and visual culture in Ireland and beyond.

She was in discussion with Iyare Igiehon, who is the Creative Diversity Partner at the BBC. As such, he is responsible for supporting the commissioning teams and independent suppliers to drive change, increase representation and ensure the BBC delivers against its strategic goals and public purpose with a particular focus on the BBC’s 20% diversity target and commitment to £100m of diverse programming. His career has taken in a number roles often with a focus on black culture and entertainment.

They followed up on the themes and issues raised, then discuss what changes and developments they’re excited about when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the screen industry. As well as the recent projects/initiatives/ideas that are propelling the industry forward and the recent work that has inspired and invigorated them to continue their work in this area.

Dr Asava spoke about the importance of data and statistics in terms of properly mapping the industry. “As well as quantitative data, we can’t underestimate the importance of qualitative data, but we don't really have the statistics here. But I know Screen Ireland is putting together a new database, which will kind of track skills and track workforce. And hopefully that will start to give us some more raw statistics. But qualitative data is so important. We know that there are maybe a larger percentage of people of colour, and people from various minorities, working in the UK film industry. But we also know from the UK film and TV charities survey last year that many of them feel excluded in many ways, and find it hard to sustain careers in the industry because of that. That's why the intersectional data is so important to know what level people are working at and what roles they're in.”

She also pointed out that we are making progress in representation but how we are only now getting to some basic elements. She illustrated this by pointing to Holding which, in addition to Demi Isaac Oviawe’s role, also had Clinton Liberty playing what is likely the first black gay Irishman on TV.

Igiehon pointed to the importance of anticipating the needs of others as being vital to the process. “How do you include people? You anticipate the fact that they'll be there, and you act accordingly. So what do we need to do? Women might show up. So what do we need to do? People with disabilities might show up, what do we need to do? That's how inclusion happens. And that's where a lot of that thinking and pushing towards is happening now.”

The pair also discussed the lack of Hate-Crime legislation in Ireland and the importance of legislation in general in being the foundation upon which to build progress with Igiehon saying “In order to create an environment where you make people think of those things, you do need the legislation as a kind of framework that creates the landscape.

The event was followed by a Networking event where the audience and panellists engaged in further discussion.

This was the first of IFTA’s planned Dynamic  Diverse events and with more planned throughout 2023 (the Academy's 20th Anniversary Year). The Academy said it was looking forward to bringing together inspiring talent, key decision makers and influential thought leaders within Film and TV, to champion and showcase diversity and inclusion in the Irish screen industry and that they will insure that “participants and key organisations within the sector will receive concrete takeaways and learnings from these discussions, and gain direct and meaningful engagement with the work being undertaken for diverse communities accessing the screen sector.”

Click here for more information about IFTA and Dynamic | Diverse.

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