One time while working as a TV producer, Adeel Amini was briefing a celebrity before a television appearance when they asked where his name came from. He told them he was born in Yorkshire and his parents are Pakistani. The celebrity paused, looked at Adeel and said: “That’s funny, you don’t sound Indian.”
“I just sort of stepped back and I had to laugh,” he says, recalling the moment to HuffPost UK. “I couldn’t really say anything - but it was wrong on so many levels. I didn’t even say I was Indian. How is somebody like that supposed to sound?”
Another time at a commissioner meeting, Adeel was going through scripts for what he describes as a high profile show when he asked the three other people in the room to help him read lines out loud. The executive producer, who was white, then read out the script in a “full-on” Jamaican accent.
“It was completely horrific and not appropriate,” Adeel reflects. “The other people started laughing along and of course, me, being the only minority in the room, kind of had to move on without saying anything.”
Adeel has worked on shows including 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? over an 11-year television career, but mental health challenges, compounded by the systematic racism he experienced at work, caused him to have a breakdown in 2016. He didn’t think he’d return to work in TV again.
Having been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in the same period, Adeel says he was offered no support for his mental health, which was made worse due to being freelance, which can exclude workers from the mental health support available to permanent staffers.
“Just as with racism, you can’t talk about it openly as you’ll be labelled as a trouble maker,” he says. “With mental health, you can’t be seen to be anything less than employable so I had to just keep it in and carry on even though I was in quite possibly the worst place you could possibly imagine a person to be in.”
Adeel describes a general “suffocation of identity” when working in TV as an ethnic minority.
“You have to have a pristine exterior,” he says. “There’s always that thought that, ‘I might have to work with these people again, I can’t be seen to disrupt the status quo.’”
Having overcome the breakdown, Adeel was inspired to set up The TV Mindset Facebook page, which launched officially in January. He did it partly because of his own experiences, but also because of his work with the Looking Glass survey, which revealed frightening statistics about the disproportionately bad state of mental health for workers in TV and film.
The survey revealed that 87% of workers in the industry had suffered from ill mental health at some point in their lives, compared with the national UK average of 65%.
The TV Mindset page aims to offer mental health support to people who work in TV, and due to the wider conversations around diversity and racism in the industry because of Black Lives Matter, the timing of the group has felt extra pertinent.
Over the few months it has been live, the page has garnered over 3,000 members, and Adeel’s recent webinar about racism in TV has now been viewed by over 6,000 people.
Following the success of the page and webinar, broadcasters, charities and organisations at the heart of the British television industry are turning to Adeel to ask for clarity and consultation around their diversity policies.
He can’t name the organisations, but it’s clear from the rapid growth and lively conversations on the page that the group speaks to the drastic need for mental health support in a gruelling industry that has definitely got a racism problem.
Alongside mental health support, Adeel and the group are spreading the simple message that a diverse workforce will also inevitably produce diverse content.
Adeel is one of the leading voices raising conversations around representation for people of colour working in TV and film. Other prominent voices include the four young women of colour that run the BAME TV Task Force, an organisation which sent an open letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden this week with almost 1,000 signatures proclaiming a “culture problem within television.”
The letter declares: “We need a diverse workforce in order to create diverse content.” The letter is still accepting signatures from minority groups and white allies.
My greatest dream with The TV Mindset is to be able to shut it down"Adeel Amini
“My greatest dream with The TV Mindset is to be able to shut it down,” Adeel says now, five months on from its conception. “Because there’s no need for it anymore because the institutions that are in the industry are providing enough support that I don’t need to.”
That point feels a long way off.
“You look back and you realise oh my god, how many times and how many instances were there where I just dismissed something for the sake of getting along, or just getting by?” Adeel asks.
“Now when I look back and just think how much I stayed quiet it makes me sad, but yeah, you just ignore it or laugh it off.”
A “culture of gratitude” encourages young people and vulnerable people such as those from minority backgrounds to make light of serious accusations of bullying in the workplace.
This culture of gratitude makes workers believe they’re lucky to be given a job, and that they should appreciate it in spite of the way they’re treated. From an early age, these negative experiences start to impact on mental health.
Additionally for minority groups, this sense that they should be thankful can be compounded by well-meaning parents in other facets of life: the idea that it’s best to keep quiet and try to fit in amongst a majority white group at school or in the workplace is a familiar one for many people of colour growing up in the UK.
“People like me don’t normally get in the industry,” says Adeel. “I didn’t have any contacts down in London where I could have coach surfed, or parents who have got a place down there or any sort of fallback. I was so grateful to be there I would have done whatever I could just to hold on to this thing that I’d worked really hard for and ultimately a dream job for me.”
It’s a story that clearly resonates with others that are, or have been, in Adeel’s position. The producer says he receives hundreds of messages across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and email, thanking him for setting up the support page.
“The nicer ones I screenshot and file away for a rainy day in case I need a bit of support myself,” he says of the torrents of notes.
Why did now feel like the right time to personally speak out? Adeel says that eleven years in the industry, and the leverage that seniority brings, coupled with the lack of fear over leaving the industry meant he was in the unique position to establish the page and not fear repercussions.
“It’s a little bit like therapy in a way now, talking about it,” he says, although he asserts that not everybody will have this experience due to the financial and personal constraints that keep people in jobs, and keep people from speaking out against prejudice. “I know that I’m one of the lucky ones,” he admits.
“I know that not everyone gets to get over their issues or at least be able to cope with them in the way that I do,” he says.
Now Adeel will continue to exploit his relative privilege to provide webinars on mental health, wellbeing, dismantling the culture of fear in TV, racism, disability and ableism in TV.
More webinars, which are free-to-attend, will be announced on the Facebook page.
Although the page is centred around the experience of working in TV, Adeel believes it’s likely minority groups from other industries will have watched the webinars and gained some useful feedback from the people of colour who have shared their stories.
“Most of us in TV are here because we love the job,” Adeel surmises.
“We all want to stay here, it’s not that we want to burn our bridges and go off into another job,” he clarifies. “We’re here because we love it, but we just want the system to work for us as well. And in order to do that, even though it is an extra burden particularly on minorities, we’re gonna do whatever we can.”