Woman opens BAME children’s talent agency to improve diversity on screen

BAME representation in advertising is at an all time high, but there is still a lot of work to be done. According to the 2018 Ethnicity in Advertising report commissioned by Lloyds Banking Group, Black, Asian and minority-ethnic people continue to be underrepresented as the sole or main protagonist of UK ads. Just 7% of adverts feature someone from a BAME group in the main role, and this lack of meaningful representation has an impact.

Selma Nicholls was so affected when her young daughter started asking why she didn’t see people who looked like her on TV, that she started her own business to help improve diversity and representation. Selma started the Looks Like Me talent agency for underrepresented children, with the aim of creating content so that her daughter, and others like her, no longer had to feel different.

‘“Mummy, she’s beautiful… And she looks like me,” said my three-year old daughter Riley-Ann, excitedly pointing at the screen. ‘Captivating her attention was Quvenzhané Wallis, a young black actress playing Annie in the remake of the classic Eighties musical,’

‘Everyone deserves to be positively and authentically represented’ (Picture: Josimar Senior) ‘That moment, four years ago, prompted a sigh of relief and a spark of inspiration. My daughter, still only in nursery, had recently begun coming home and asking for straight hair and lighter skin – just like her favourite cartoon characters. ‘

Watching Annie, Riley-Ann had for the first time identified with a positive image of a young black woman on screen.’ Selma set up her agency in 2015 with the support of Virgin StartUp and it is now the only child talent agency in the UK that champions improving diversity in media. She says that many ethnic minority children have an overwhelming majority of white role models on screen, which doesn’t reflect the world around them. This is what she hopes to change.

‘The issue of diversity is also personal,’ explains Selma. ‘When I heard my daughter doubt herself, I drew on my experience as a producer and I went into full producer mode, thinking: “What is the solution? What can I do to help her and other children to grow their mindsets and know that every child is beautiful in their own right?” ‘Everyone deserves to be positively and authentically represented. Diverse and inclusive teams contribute to making this happen.’ Selma sold her house and her car to kickstart her business.

She then secured an initial funding loan of £7,000 from Virgin StartUp to turn her entrepreneurial dream into reality. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength, placing children in campaigns for the likes of Next, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

‘We are born in a diverse country, why not reflect this?’ asks Selma. ‘No one can deny that the industry has become more diverse, it’s much more inclusive and that’s only growing and reflecting the diverse country that we live in.

Black little girls smile and walk through a field
‘We’re taking everyone with us. It’s a beautiful thing’ (Picture: Helen Marsden)

‘We’re taking everyone with us. It’s a beautiful thing.’ ‘We’re taking everyone with us. It’s a beautiful thing’ (Picture: Helen Marsden) Selma doesn’t only believe that representation is important for people from BAME groups. She says diversity is a good thing for the industry as a whole. ‘They represent cultural and community stories that they can relate to. Audiences resonate with authenticity,’ she says.

‘I remember saying that people may not believe in my idea. It’s a massive leap from sharing it with friends to pitching to Virgin, but once I did it was such smooth sailing. ‘A message for other would-be founders out there: For any woman who has doubts; whether it’s because they’ve got a family or childcare to think about, whatever else it may be, I strongly believe, speaking from experience, that there are really supportive networks out there.’ Virgin StartUp has announced a public pledge to commit to 50/50 funding target for women and men entrepreneurs by the end of 2020, becoming the first business funder in the UK to make this promise.

The new programme of women-led initiatives will support Virgin StartUp’s 50/50 ambitions and encourage more women founders, like Selma, to start and thrive in business.

‘After more than three years of hard work, Looks Like Me will be entering a global partnership deal with Getty Images,’ says Selma. ‘I’ve been working so hard, for so long, and to know now that I’ve got a global partner that is so proud to work with us is amazing.

‘We’re also going to dedicate a platform to female photographers so that they can be visible, and work can be seen.’

Written by: Natalie Morris

First published 19.09.19: https://metro.co.uk/2019/09/19/woman-opens-talent-agency-bame-children-daughter-see-diversity-screen-10771223/

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