From Tokenism to Truthful – Report

Posted on: Sunday 05 July 2015 9:21am by Simon Bor


  •  50% of the regular cast of ‘The Dumping Ground’ are diverse.
  • ‘Katie Morag’ has the kind of authenticity that is lacking from other minority portrayals.
  • A new passport is a great moment for a Trans person.
  • The world of fine art can be elitist and exclusive.


According to IPSOS research, 38% of people living in 2050’s Britain will come from an ethic background.

Moderator, Sheila de Courcy, Head of Children’s at RTÉ, asked the panel if television is doing enough to reflect all Britain’s minorities or whether the use of non-white and disabled talent is just tokenism.

Cat Lewis is passionate that she helps address the balance; as joint Creative Director at Nine Lives Media, she makes programmes for children’s TV that focus on unheard voices. A touching clip from ‘Leo’s Video Diary’ showed the moment that Leo received the passport that acknowledged that he was male, describing the event as a great moment for Trans People.

Sue Needleman is the casting director for shows such as ‘Tracy Beaker Returns’ and ‘The Dumping Ground.’ The approach Sue uses to find young actors is not like normal casting. Normally, it’s too expensive to find talent that isn’t being pushed forward. She is proud that out of a regular company of 14 kids, 50% of the cast of ‘The Dumping Ground’ are diverse, including three disabled actors.

Pat Younge, of Sugar Films, knows how easy it is to get things wrong. In the 1996 Cricket World Cup, The West Indies famously lost to Kenya in the early stages. “It was like Man United being beaten by a non league side.” Coming from Caribbean heritage, he decided to make a programme about the fall of West Indies cricket. He was stunned by the criticism he got, and to this day he realises that he had made the wrong film. It should not have been about the fall of the West Indies, it should have been about the rise of African cricket.

Pat said that parents want to see their kids reflected on TV, and although things have changed for the better since he first worked in broadcasting, there is more work to do. But it’s not just about the number of diverse faces; he is concerned about authenticity. He cited BBC Scotland’s ‘Katie Morag’ as an example of authentic representation of a community. To Pat, this is the kind of authenticity that is lacking from the portrayal of other minorities.

Sharna Jackson is creative and interactive director at Hopster TV, which provides learning programmes for children aged 2-6 via an app. They have found that a high percentage of positive feedback comes from parents with children on the autistic spectrum.

In her previous life at The Tate, Sharna discovered that the art world was somewhat elitist and exclusive; even the diversity officer got her mixed up with the only other employee of colour. When she discovered that interns were invariably the children of friends of the management, she fought to change things. As governor of Rotherhithe Primary School, she brought in a diverse group of kids to video and interview the Tate’s director, Sir Nicholas Serota to help highlight concerns about the 2012 proposal to reduce the importance of the arts in the exam system.

For full details of the speakers, check the Session Guide.

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About the author

Simon Bor


I studied Animation at Farnham, and, more recently, I have been awarded an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. I set up Honeycomb Animation with Sara Bor and have been involved in children’s television since the mid eighties. As a writer, I have co written and created several shows… Read more