Wednesday 24 June 2015

Is there unconscious bias operating at the British Film Institute (BFI)?

Despite the critical and commercial success of “Dear White people” both in the U.S and at the Sundance Festival, a film by a first time director Justine Simien, one would imagine that distributors would be knocking on the director’s door to get it out to the public. However in the UK, the film will not be shown in cinemas but will instead be going straight to DVD and Netflix. The reason being that the film failed to get the support from the BFI to get it distributed, not to the Multiplex cinemas but to the independent cinemas. Ben Robertson, a spokesperson for the BFI gave some rational reasons as to why it would not support it including such factors as; audience development in the UK, core audience being black and not getting the bookings from the Multiplex cinemas etc. None of these rational reasons when challenged hold up. What really appears to be the case is that, currently the BFI has very little experience of dealing with black distributors so perhaps they don’t know what they don’t know. Secondly, in all probability, it is likely that the processes and criteria’s BFI use to make their decisions has unintended systemic bias, the impact of which leads to exclusion of films which otherwise would be worthy of their support. Perhaps the decision makers at the BFI need to think about how they are applying the funding which they receive from the lottery money and become aware of where there might be unconscious bias despite their best intentions.

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