An expert in the field of media and culture is hoping to bring change to the TV and film industry and get more people with disabilities and mental health conditions into roles, both on and off screen, thanks to a new research project funded by the British Academy.
Jason Lee, Professor of Film, Media and Culture at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), has been awarded the British Academy Innovation Fellowship worth £173,000, to explore why more people with disabilities and/or mental health conditions aren’t being considered, to help address a major skills gap in the industry.
Professor Jason Lee
For the project Professor Lee will work closely with Terry Bamber from film company Jones Bamber Productions, who has worked on hit TV shows such as Bridgerton and Luther, and major film franchises including James Bond, as they combine academic expertise and professional industry experience to produce potential solutions.
Together they will curate and host workshops with the aim of learning from existing research and engaging with industry experts and students, and developing an industry portal, while Professor Lee, as principal investigator, plans to write a series of new books and edit an academic journal based around the project.
They will also produce two short films that offer opportunities for disabled people and those with mental health conditions to feature in front of the camera or work behind the scenes, with accompanying documentaries to highlight the filmmaking process.
“The Innovation Fellowship is a new initiative by the British Academy, and an exciting knowledge transfer opportunity that we hope will help us to better understand why people with disabilities are the most discriminated against group in the TV and film industry,” explained Professor Lee, who is also a chartered psychologist.
“I have worked with Terry since 2010 and he brings a wealth of industry knowledge, with fascinating insight into filmmaking.
Terry Bamber has worked on major film franchises and popular TV shows
“The other thing to note is that there is a major skills gap. The industry is struggling to find employees who have the necessary skills, especially in screenwriting, which is our key focus.
“The aim of this project is to combine critical and creative outputs to meet the urgent two-fold need for both equality and skills.”
In 2019, a report published by the Creative Diversity Network, widely recognised as the most authoritative diversity monitor across the UK TV industry, found that disabled people are the most underrepresented group of all in television, making up just 5.2% of the off-screen workforce and 7.8% on-screen.
By contrast, the current percentage of working-age disabled people in the UK population is around 19%.
“The need to address inequality is already great but if we don’t make changes now, the gap will only grow,” added Professor Lee.
The project will run for a year until February 2023 and culminate in a conference featuring guest speakers and an overview of the project outcomes, as well as the films produced. The project will also open up new opportunities for postgraduate students with an interest in the subject.
Terry Bamber said: “I am so pleased to be working with Jason on this project. The wonderful opportunities that a career in film and television can offer must be made available to all.
“I have talented colleagues who will be a part of this project who do not understand the word ‘can’t’; thanks to the British Academy, we will make a real difference.”
The Innovation Fellowship scheme is scheme designed to enable researchers in the humanities and social sciences to partner with organisations and business in the creative and cultural, public, private and policy sectors in order to address challenges that require innovative approaches and solutions.
For more information about Professor Lee's work visit his latest blog. Anyone hoping to get involved in the project can contact him directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on Thursday 14th April 2022