Zaff Malik On Diversity In The Film Industry

Zaff Malik. Photo by Summer Bao.

Zaff Malik, an astonishing TV/Film actor known for Hollywood’s biblical adaptation of David and Goliath, ITV’s Saturday Night Takeaway and BBC comedies, explains what the TV and film industry can do to reverse the trend and include a more diverse cast and possibly crew.

Zaff wants to be an agent of change in the rigid landscape, to one that is more representative of today’s society. He has a huge influence and stands out in the industry with the film and TV work he’s racked up to date.

Equity – Actors Union

Equity the actor’s union have involved him in their debates on the issue.  He had been personally invited by Equity to participate in their ‘Play Fair’ panel discussions on diversity. Play Fair was a program they created to tackle lack of diversity in all forms from Theatre to Film and TV, to tackle this right from the top, starting with casting directors. When Equity then asked him to discuss this issue with an assembled panel of industry stakeholders including the BBC he had to accept. During the closed event, he realised some progress was being made but there was a whole lot more that needed to be done. He was disappointed that the other competitor channels couldn’t even be bothered to make it to the discussion. He wanted them there to discuss what they were doing to tackle this issue. He fed back his concerns to Equity and aired them vocally on social media.

Zaff Malik.  Photo by Summer Bao.

Zaff Malik. Photo by Summer Bao.

On air

He was then invited to talk on BBC Radio on the subject of diversity after his fellow actor in the business, Kal Penn released to the press how he was cast in stereotypical Asian roles. Zaff went live on air to explain about his experience in the film/TV industry and listeners were soon to realise that his wasn’t too dissimilar to Penn’s experience. In fact, many of his ethnically diverse actor friends told Zaff of similar experiences.

He mentioned, “I realise we are lacking women, LGBT and less abled people in the industry, especially in leading roles but I need to highlight the lack of Asians as that is my heritage and I can speak from experience from what’s happened to me”

Tea Break Film Festival

At the Tea Break Film Festival in Hull, September 2017, he was asked to be head judge and decide on a winning film to finalise the festival. At the end, he stood up and talked about his film/TV background. A number of people came to speak to him afterward, but one woman, in particular, Sue, said the City needed someone like him to give youngsters a hope for the future. She told him her teenage son was a bit lost in life and needed direction so he offered her to personally guide her son. Even the festival director Mal Wiliamson and the other film judge came to him on the wrap up and were so enthralled by his story and success in the business that he said it gave him a new reason to pick arts projects up he was putting off, back up again and approach them with a fresh mind, telling himself that they were worth pursuing and that he could make a difference to the local filmmakers and the community in general.

The Nottingham Micro Film Festival 2018

He is planning to talk at well-known venues and events to inspire others especially young Asian men. He has already been invited to attend one of the biggest film festival events in the UK, the Nottingham Micro Film Festival in 2018, an international platform, as one of the hosts, a panel speaker and also chair debates.  A superb opportunity to spread the word and what the film and TV stakeholders can be doing on a worldwide basis to improve the situation.

Zaff detailed, “it begins with the writers, they need to cast their net a bit wider in terms of the characters they conjure up in their stories, in terms of not always going for the default Caucasian, male choice.  A simple analogy could be to think of Idris Elba in the role of Bond, the fact we are opening up a can of worms with die hard Bond fans is a separate discussion”, he sniggers under his breath.

Zaff Malik.  Photo by Summer Bao.

Zaff Malik. Photo by Summer Bao.

He then went on to mention, “across the whole industry from writers, cast to crew we have a lack of diversity.  This isn’t necessarily all the industry’s fault.  Maybe for example it’s a cultural thing specifically with Asians, the fact that the industry isn’t something that’s really seen as a future to aspire to.  Maybe we need to educate the up and coming generations as to the reward, the self esteem they can gain by being in it.  We also need role models which we are severely lacking.  But things are moving in the right direction slowly, we just need more to champion the cause.

Zaff ended on “right now Asian role models in film/TV are virtually non-existent, I mean Riz Ahmed and Penn are rising up the ranks slowly. In ten years time, we may be in a better position, where we can look back and say that it was only an issue in the previous decades”.

But only if people like Zaff stand up and highlight the cause and use whatever platforms and opportunity they can to generate interest and understanding.  To join forces and work together to represent our society fully in theatres and on screen.

Photos by Summer Bao.

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