The Dynamism of Diversity — Just Watch. Oh It’s not confined to music
A joyful, exuberant, magnificent celebratory display of togetherness.
In a week of the Oscar ‘whiteness’ debacle, of a James-Bond-in-waiting Idris Elba addressing British MPS about diversity, about continuing division driven by politicians, of hate being the new de rigueur monocle that some people wear openly, let’s dance.
It’s not that facetious. The effusion of feel good hormones, the spectacle of wonderment. It’s a celebration of happy. But look to the back of the video and on the wall overlooking the dancers is: Unity in Diversity. This says something about intent, and speaks loud about the implicit.
This week, I suppose like many of us, differences, diversity is something I feel we need to invest some time and understanding in. Our exchange of knowledge, our imbibing of different ideas is what makes us grow emotionally and intellectually. The word ‘diversity’ can be an eye-roll, a turn off (for the moment just think of dancing) because it may seemingly have little to do with you.
Yesterday, while lecturing to my MA students in documentary, I highlighted how nations and individuals from different cultures have contributed to the development of film’s form e.g. Neorealism (Italian), Stillness and balance (Chinese), Time and Space (Russia) and Mythical and transcendental (Africa).
We borrow, or appropriate from each other, for example the Greece Alphabet; impressionism that lifted ideas from Asian lithography; Black culture and the music industry. Diversity is in continual motion. Yet its explicit acceptance can present problems.
‘What was it like 20 years ago?’, I’ve heard asked. Twenty five years ago, I walked into one of the BBC’s most respected news departments, Newsnight. At the time I was the only black person, but change appeared to be in the air. There was a drive, at least from what I could see, to bring in new ideas and there were broadcast outlets where we could talk about the issues far more regularly. I used to present the BBC’s Black London.
Last year Newsnight’s video about how to break into the industry made me sad. The press reported the lack of any people of colour in its new promo.
Twenty years ago diversity was assuming a new persona. It was being re-modelled so it had less to do with altruism, but that if you were different, you had another approach, a fresh methodology, you had something to offer.
You had to know your stuff, but what you craved was opportunity. Fifteen years on, I silently doffed my cap to Newsnight, when I stood in front of a gathering at the Press Club in Washington receiving an international award for innovation in journalism.
I know many of these stories, where faith in an individual materialises serving as a nod to diversity; Idris Elba in his talk to MPs thanked the BBC for giving him his first break.
But we appear to have reversed, rescinded the insight, that yes, as often is exclaimed by pros and cons, ‘let the best person get the gig’, judged as Mr King said not by the… You know what I mean.
The Net has inadvertently played a part. My hypothesis is that, its presence provided many bricks and mortar institutions with the alternative argument: ‘Why come to us when you can do it yourself !”. There seemed a loss in motivation to seek parity in the workplace because the likes of a Jamal Edwards could make it outside.
But the Mr Edwards are few and far between. The web, which in its birthing state was an anarchic, DIY experimental ground, where everything was possible has mutated. Everything’s still possible, but the chances of breaking through compared with yesteryear are narrowing.
Diversity in the industry of creativity and commerce now also manifests itself, or not for that matter, in tech. As a burgeoning number of groups have illustrated, captured in Mark S. Luckie’s popular Medium post What it’s actually like to be a Black employee at a tech company, diversity in tech is as much an issue as it is in film or TV.
Caveat alert: Diversity does not solely mean ethnic origins e.g. Black. It covers a myriad of parameters e.g. sexuality. I’m exploring its more visible theme here.
By 2020, there’s every possibility that the behemoths that control or corral us into their environments will have de facto created the bogey we’ve mainly feared — a net neutrality. It doesn’t kill diversity, but it recycles what you know amongst your own. That’s an argument to further.
Meanwhile, the richness of our differences and ideas, of conversations that we share shows humanity at its best. Lets dance.
Dr. David Dunkley Gyimah is an academic and creative. He’s still a dreamer and used to dance on the UK’s Soul Train. He writes and produces films about creativity, politics, and things techy, social and Internety. This year he’s a judge for the RTS, and other things. Ping him or email at David@viewmagazine.tv