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Quotas, quotas everywhere: The world according to Lenny


I’M old enough to remember when entertainers entertained, and actors were versatile. It’s a shame these days that the only role anyone’s interested in is that of the victim. Show up on RADA’s doorstep, and I daresay they’d be more interested in your David Lammy than your King Lear.

So it was little surprise that Sir Lenny Henry chose to remind everyone just how well he can inhabit the victim role as he received the ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’ at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards ceremony.

You might think this would be a tall order for a knighted, multi-millionaire public figure, though he gave it a good shot. So too did his trusty sidekick and Comic Relief co-founder, Richard Curtis, who looked on in reverent silence, trying not to look too conspicuously white.

Henry’s demands (yes, that is the right word) are as follows:

‘You know, my thing is nobody left behind, no one left behind now in our industry. Let’s have people behind the scenes, and on camera, and let’s have that be diverse and representational.

‘We shouldn’t have to put up any more with walking on to a set and not seeing people who look like us. So 50/50 male female, 15 or whatever you want, 15 per cent BAME, and you know 0.3 per cent people with disabilities working in our industry, that’s disgraceful.’

Note the language being used here. Nobody left behind, in Lenny’s world view, means all must have prizes (quotas) regardless. Yet surely idealism should extend to but not exceed expecting the best (which anyway includes a range of attributes – attitude, character, personality, aptitude – which contribute to ability) candidate to get the job?

Sadly it appears a sign of the times that luvvies (along with so many others), are tired of doing the jobs they freely chose, and are instead being seduced into such misguided political activism, à la Colin Kaepernick, Emma Thompson and most recently Megan Rapinoe.

Henry’s heart is ruling his head when it comes to quotas. Has he asked himself how on earth such a notion could ever work? While he honed in on three ‘obvious’ victim statuses (gender, race and disability), what about the almost limitless identity options and sub-categories he could have expressed concern about: LGBTQwerty, transgenderism, age, religion, class etc?

Think of the staff you’d need to run the database to police such quota compliance. Who’d be woke enough to run this new ‘injustice’ quango? Theresa May? She’s already auditioning for the role. What, I wonder, would she do about self-identifiers or those not yet fully ‘out’? Expand the database in her unfinished injustice revolution? What would she do about those who manipulate the system – would there be gayness and DNA tests to intercept the Elizabeth Warrens and Rachel Dolezals of the acting fraternity? Employ specialist DNA police?

Would you give increased employment opportunities to those who tick more boxes on the victim checklist? On that rationale, one can’t help feeling that Linda Sarsour would be pretty much guaranteed an Oscar should she ever throw her hijab into the ring.

The dystopian nightmare continues in the dramas and films themselves, many of which are historical. Knowing as we do that Dunkirk was hideously white, do we need to enforce (re-invent) quotas on the past so as not to offend or discriminate? How do we deal with non-white masterpieces such as Roots, Seven Samurai or Gandhi – do we have to overcompensate in other areas, or simply not make them? What do we do if the quotas are exceeded? Is it OK as long as it’s not in favour of white people? And are we to assume that events such as the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) awards will be having a closer look at themselves?

What should the quota czar do about the awful tokenism (identity prositution?) felt by those chosen merely for their demographic attributes? How would she justify destroying the dreams of the suitably qualified, merely because their demography would not permit such whoring?

As questionable as the case is for applying quotas to public bodies such as the police, at least there is some vague logic you can point to. How on earth are you supposed to police what people find entertaining, and where (if anywhere) do you draw the line?

Presumably once we’ve relocated the casting couch to the casting wheelchair, are we also to have quotas for pornography, rap music, and anime as well as ‘high art’?

Quotas are not just a non-solution to a non-problem, they risk stifling the very freedom and choice that gave the lucky and talented Sir Lenny his leg up to stardom.

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Frank Haviland
Frank Haviland
Frank Haviland is the author of Banalysis: The Lie Destroying The West Website: Twitter: @Frankhaviland.

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