Jimmy Akingbola: “If this was a diversity marathon, we would be winning”

Actor Jimmy Akingbola, star of In The Long Run, wanted to be proactive when it came to getting more non-white faces on our screens. He says his hard work is finally paying off

During these difficult times, 2020 has definitely been a moment to count my blessings. Despite the lockdown, I’ve been privileged to see one of my favourite jobs come to fruition, with series three of In the Long Run [pictured above] coming out on Sky TV. While doing press interviews though, one question keeps coming up: What are you most proud of?

Of course, I am proud of In The Long Run, because I’m part of something we still don’t see on our TV screens even in 2020: a British sitcom about a family that just happens to be black. This lack of representation is something I’ve been trying to change for years through my work with TriForce Creative Network. The systemic issues within our industry that we are talking about now via the Black Lives Matter movement are something I’ve been aware of since I was a kid. So, when people ask me what I am most proud of I realise the correct answer is TriForce Creative Network.

Back in 2003 myself and writer Fraser Ayres set up TriForce after identifying issues in the entertainment industry regarding diversity, access and “knowing the right people”. We’ve been at the forefront of developing and nurturing diverse and inclusive talent for 17 years, long before ‘diverse’ became a buzzword. I can confidently say if this was a diversity marathon, we would be winning!

We’ve provided opportunities over the years to actors, writers, directors, producers and crew through a range of programmes, all designed to address the specific barriers people from under-represented backgrounds face in our industry. MonologueSlam is a nationwide, industry-supported, free actors showcase. We’ve taken the show all over the UK and even over to LA! There have been thousands of success stories over the years, with previous performers including Chizzy Akudolu (Holby City), Kiran Sonia Sawar (Black Mirror), Michael Salami (Hollyoaks), Frieda Thiel (Just A Couple), Jaz Deol (EastEnders), Oliver Stark (9-1-1) and Zack Momoh (Harriet).

We’ve had similar success with WriterSlam, our platform for writers looking to break into TV. We’ve worked with Amazon, Channel 4, ITV, Sky, and BBC with prizes including paid development commissions and mentoring with top TV executives. Our finalist writers are now with some of the top literary agents in the UK, with our very first winner Sophie Petzal now a hugely successful writer with her own series [Blood] on Virgin and Channel 5.

That’s just a snapshot of the work we do to support diverse talent. It’s always been very important to me to share my own good fortune and do what I can to help people get through the door. It takes many people to contribute to an individual’s success, but to know I’ve been part of so many people’s journey means a huge amount to me, more than any job possibly could.

It will be interesting to see how much impact the recent focus on Black Lives Matter will really make to British TV

Sadly, it still feels like it’s a ‘one in, one out’ policy in the TV and film industry for diverse talent. For every In the Long Run that gets through, there are thousands of exciting ‘black projects’ that don’t get made. It will be interesting to see how much impact the recent focus on Black Lives Matter will really make to British TV. The signs are promising, we’ve had more production companies contact us in the last few weeks looking to connect with diverse talent than we’ve had in years! I’m hopeful that we’ll see a similar shift in cultural norms that we did in some small way following the #MeToo movement. It’s not just about on-screen representation, we also need to see more non-white creatives like Michaela Coel and Steve McQueen get their shot, and get to tell stories which resonate with a wider range of society.

Our next big shift with TriForce is working on bringing some of those stories to screen, under TriForce Productions. We’ve already got some great projects in development, so hopefully if you come back to me this time next year and ask me what I’m most proud of, I can tell you all about our new show!

Series three of In the Long Run is on Sky One and Now TV