An update on our response to the
Black Lives Matter movement

We started having important and difficult conversations among staff and board members about how we can be more proactive and integrated in our approach to anti-racism.While our work in the film industry may seem distant from institutional racism in the police force, we recognise the responsibility that we have as arts workers to fight systemic racism in British society.   

The core work of the ICO has always been to champion voices that have traditionally been undervalued in the film and the film exhibition sector. However, as an organisation with a predominantly white staff and Board of Trustees we recognise our own position of privilege, our shortcomings and that we certainly don’t have all the answers. We have started asking ourselves more urgent questions about our working culture, our assumptions, and how structural racism operates.  

We began by: 

Creating an internal document for all staff to anonymously share thoughts, feelings and concerns in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.  

We then: 

Formed a staff Anti-Racism working group which held 12, two-hour discussions in August and September 2020. All staff and the Board of Trustees were given the opportunity to participate in these discussions. Staff at every level in the ICO were encouraged to take part in order to create a more open and honest dialogue not limited to the senior management team. The group was made up of the following volunteers: 

  • Sudha Bhuchar, Board of Directors 
  • Thea Burrows, Board of Directors 
  • James Calver, Projects and Events Officer 
  • Duncan Carson, Business and Projects Manager 
  • Barbara Chapman, Training and Professional Development Manager 
  • Lillie Harman, Administration and Finance Assistant 
  • Heather McIntosh, Film Programmer 
  • Isabel Moir, Film Programmer 
  • Kate Ottway, Marketing and Communications Manager 
  • Hatice Özdemirciler, Head of Partnerships and Development 

The group discussed all the ideas in the internal document and began to develop an action plan specific to the work of the ICO from those ideas. The plan is made up of actions we can take, research we need to do, conversations we need to have, collaborations we will seek, and other ways for us to share the power and resources we have. This draft action plan was then discussed in teams and at an all staff meeting. Some actions have been taken already including: 

  • A full anonymous audit of the staff and Board of Trustees which can be viewed on our website here.
  • The recruitment of an HR consultant to ensure that all ICO staff have an independent voice to listen to their concerns and ensure that all policies are inclusive. This is also an additional resource to support staff in their career progression.  

The plan is currently being written up with actions, targets and timelines before being circulated to a number of individuals, partners and critical friends outside the organisation for comment. These critical friends are experienced in organisational change and anti-racist work in the arts and will help move our discussions into meaningful actions and ensure our work is collaborative, well-informed and effective in elevating the needs of people who experience racism. We will publish information on who we are working with on our website alongside the working plan.  

The working document will be publicised in the new year and we look forward to discussing it more widely then. The ICO’s Anti-Racism group will continue to meet regularly and this plan and its progress will be updated twice a year in May and October, with our actions and undertakings measured and publicised. The publicised document is by no means a finished piece of work but will set out our actions and plans for measuring the impact of this work 

In the meantime, if you’d like to comment on our plans or speak to us about anything detailed above, please contact Hatice Özdemirciler (Head of Partnerships and Development, ICO) at 

Critical Friends

A triptych of headshot photographs. On the left, a person wearing a white scarf with a pattern of musical notes stands in a theatre auditorium; in the middle, a person with pink hair and lipstip; on the right, a person wearing a light blue shirt buttoned up to the top and a small dark beard.
Our critical friends. From left to right: Anita Bhalla OBE, Lara Ratnaraja and Matthew Xia.

Anita Bhalla OBE

Anita is currently Chair of Performances at Birmingham PLC (Town Hall and Symphony Hall), Independent Member of Birmingham & Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, Independent Member and Vice-Chair of Council at the University of Warwick, Chair of Iniva, Director of Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership), Governor of the RSC, and Chair of WMCA Leadership Commission.

Anita’s media career has been extensive, spending over 25 years of which working with the BBC; from setting up the BBC Asian Network to being a news correspondent, a documentary maker, the Head of Political and Community Affairs in England, then Head and Editor of the BBC’s Public Space Broadcasting and President of Circom (a European wide group of public service broadcasters).

Anita has a strong commitment to public services and her portfolio in this area ranges from being a Trustee of the Children’s University, Commissioner on the Chancellor’s Commission (Warwick University), member of Birmingham’s Social Inclusion Commission, past Chair of MAC (Midlands Arts Centre), non-Executive Director of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospitals NHS Trust, Director of the High Speed Rail College, a previous Chair of a Junior and Infant School and member of the governing body of Birmingham City University.

In 2009 Anita was awarded an OBE for services to Broadcasting and Communities. In 2012 Anita was the High Sheriff for the West Midlands. Anita has been awarded Honorary Degrees from Wolverhampton University, Birmingham City University and Warwick University. She is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Lara Ratnaraja

Lara specialises in diversity, innovation, leadership, collaboration, stakeholder management, advocacy, thought leadership and cultural policy development and implementation within the HE, cultural and digital sector. She develops and delivers projects and policy on how cultural and digital technology intersect for a number of national partners as well as programmes around leadership, resilience and business development for the arts and creative industries. She works or has worked with the University of Birmingham, Coventry University, Birmingham City University STEAMhouse and University of Salford, delivering and developing projects on diversity, digital engagement and research collaborations between arts, HEIs and SMEs. Other consultancy clients include Jerwood Arts, Imagineer, The Big Draw, Film Hub Midlands and West Midlands Screen Bureau.

Lara is well respected as a key influencer in the development of sector policy, a sought after speaker and strategic thinker on policy especially in diversity. She is on the Board of Derby Theatres and Vivid Projects, and the Advisory Groups for Coventry Biennial and SHOUT Festival. She is on the Midlands Area Council for Arts Council England, the Equality Monitoring Group for Arts Council Wales, and is a Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre Industry Champion.

Matthew Xia

Matthew is a self-taught theatre director, DJ, composer, broadcaster and journalist with a focus on using theatre as a platform to promote inclusion, activism and social change.

One of his earliest jobs was being commissioned to create a musical at Theatre Royal, Stratford East at the age of 18. A year later, he was appointed as the first DJ on black music radio station BBC 1Xtra. Since then, he has directed plays for The Royal Court, the Barbican, the Young Vic and many more.

Matthew has served as Associate Director at Stratford East, Director in Residence at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Associate Artist at the Nottingham Playhouse and as Associate Artistic Director at the Manchester Royal Exchange, where he established the OPEN EXCHANGE, an artist development scheme with over 400 next generation theatre-makers. His DJ career highlights include playing at Glastonbury Festival, Ministry of Sound and the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony.

Matthew is a founding member of Act for Change, which is a registered charity with a mission of strengthening diversity in the arts. He is also a trustee of Cardboard Citizens, the UK’s only homeless people’s professional theatre company, as well as a trustee of Artistic Directors of the Future. 2020 has seen him join the Everyman and Playhouse Diversity Action Group as well as the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s Equity Committee. Last year, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Arts London for his efforts to make theatre universally accessible by working to promote minority groups as theatre leaders, makers and consumers. He is the current Artistic Director for the Actor’s Touring Company.

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