The Blackbook: Addressing the Lack of Black Representation in the Creative Industries

Marianne Stenger
15th October 2020

Whether you’re a photographer, designer or director, carving out a place within a notoriously competitive creative marketplace is not easy. For black creatives, however, there is the additional challenge of navigating the lack of access and diversity within these industries.

A 2017 report from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport found that around 11% of jobs in the UK’s creative economy were filled by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers. Although this is an increase from previous years and 11% is near the national average, the figures may be slightly misleading.

For one thing, the report’s authors note that the high concentration of creative jobs in multicultural London means that if the same ratio were seen across the country, nearly 18% of the creative workforce would come from a BAME background. Another problem is that the given groups are not distinct, so it’s impossible to tell whether the majority of creative businesses are actually representative of their communities.

London-based music marketer Rianne Gordon says she noticed the lack of diversity, and specifically the lack of black representation, during her time working in corporate PR and later in the music industry.

Nikki Ranger, Stylist. Photoshoot for Eden Zine, a black-owned platform for the younger generation

“Throughout my career, I’ve worked with different kinds of creatives, and I’ve always been sort of subconsciously aware that there was a disparity in terms of how black creatives were treated in comparison to nonblack creatives,” she says.

“I noticed that black creatives would only be brought on to work on urban types of projects and that the expectations in terms of what a black creative would be able to do were lower. This meant that black creatives would tend to be paid less. In general, there just seemed to be a sort of reluctance to work with black creatives on a lot of types of projects.”

She also notes that the issue can at times be swallowed up by collective terms such as BAME. “I do have an issue with terms that put everyone that is a minority ethnic within the same category. For one thing, it means companies wouldn’t necessarily pay too much attention to black representation, because if there’s someone that fits into BAME, then that’s a job well done,” she explains.

These experiences inspired Rianne to launch The Blackbook, a resource and platform aimed at increasing black representation in the creative industries and supporting black creatives. To find out more, we asked her to tell us a bit about the newly launched platform.

Could you tell us a bit about The Blackbook and how it got started?

I guess with the madness of this year, I had some time to reflect on things. In the music industry I spend most of my day worrying about whether an artist has been playlisted or whether they’re going to reach the charts, so I wanted to do something more meaningful for the community.

The Blackbook was launched at the end of June 2020, so it’s still very fresh, but there are already over 300 creatives in the directory. It’s also had really good support from big companies like Apple, Spotify, Adidas, Universal Music and Sony Music.  

The way it works is that creatives can sign up to be part of it, but I do curate the network to ensure there is enough variety for different kinds of companies. I try to find a balance between established and experienced creatives and developing ones as well. I want to give opportunities to less established creatives that might not otherwise get many opportunities.

Aaliyah Oke, Make-up Artist

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in setting the platform up and what would you like to accomplish with it in the next few years? 

One of the main challenges at the moment is just building awareness of The Blackbook’s existence beyond my personal network. Fortunately, lots of people have been sharing it and letting others know, so word of mouth has been helping. But there is still a lot of work to do in terms of making it known to the wider public.

Another thing that I found recently whilst I was having a look through the database is that it’s quite London-leaning at the moment. So I really want to push it beyond London and incorporate other parts of the UK like Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. I feel like these areas are so often forgotten, but there are black communities and creative jobs in those places as well. 

I would also like to start addressing issues like collective terms and levels of inclusion. It’s one thing for a company to hire someone who is black, but it’s also about actively trying to make the workplace feel like an inclusive environment. Social cohesion within the workplace is another challenge.

One that I haven’t really had time to develop yet, but which is also important to me, is giving a space or some kind of opportunity for the creatives in the network to collaborate with each other as well. So it won’t just be outward facing to different companies, but also an internal network for each of the creatives that are involved.

The main plan for The Blackbook, which I’m working on over the next couple of weeks, is to register it as a social enterprise. So it will have a bit more authority to do different things in terms of growing beyond being just a directory.

Akili Lamour, Illustrator

You’re also planning to create a photo book in the coming months. Can you tell us about the idea behind that? 

The plan is to create a really high quality coffee table book, which can be used as a marketing tool, but also a fundraising opportunity. Ideally the plan is to launch it next year, but I would love for it to be an annual thing, with each volume centred around a specific theme.

It would be created with myself and a creative designer from the network, and we would use a selection of works made by some other creatives in the network. So it’s a way to promote the platform, but it would also be a really beautiful piece of art on its own. 

It’s something that I see as a living and sort of more tangible product of The Blackbook. It will hopefully help people to see that black talent is good too!

Karis Beaumont, Photographer

Want to find out more about The Blackbook and how it’s helping black creatives within the UK? Visit theBlack-book.co.uk or follow @theblackbook_uk on Instagram. If you’d like to turn your own images into a professional-quality photobook, check out our Bob Books Bestsellers to find the perfect style of book for your project.