Professor Zahir Irani: How Bridgerton can be a catalyst for Bradford

As one of the stars of Bridgerton, actress Nicola Coughlan had the perfect riposte to detractors of the multi-racial cast on the Netflix show. “You know some people were like ‘diversity in period drama doesn’t work’,” she wrote on Twitter. “…63 million households thought it did.”

The Netflix drama Bridgerton helps to underline the huge opportunity for Bradford as one of Britain’s most diverse cities.
The Netflix drama Bridgerton helps to underline the huge opportunity for Bradford as one of Britain’s most diverse cities.

The Regency drama has become one of the streaming giant’s biggest ever hits, proving the point. This underlines the huge opportunity for Bradford as one of Britain’s most diverse cities and our vibrant, creative and confident cultural industries.

It is an issue highlighted by Sir Lenny Henry in his new book, Access All Areas: The Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond.

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“By 2031, one in five Britons will be from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background and that number is forecast to increase to almost one third of the population by 2061,” said the Comic Relief co-founder.

“All the research shows this growing segment of the population uses streaming services more than their white counterparts and feels that services like Netflix do a better job at representing their lives than programmes produced by broadcasters such as the BBC.”

Britain is changing and nowhere is this transformation better reflected than in Bradford, a city of female leaders. Our diverse, multicultural population is one of our strengths and forms one of the pillars of our economic recovery plan.

Our cultural, heritage and natural assets – from our Victorian parks to our wild moorlands – offer many opportunities to stimulate growth and generate skilled employment. It is not just me saying this: the Luxury Travel Guide described Bradford as “a modern cosmopolitan city with a thousand stories to tell”.

Some of these stories are being turned into films this year. Backed by the Make:Film initiative, the films will showcase the distinctive characteristics of Bradford and its communities. Projects include Holme Grown, a documentary from local company Outloud focusing on untold tales of life in Holme Wood, a British-Bangladeshi love story from actor and writer Kamal Kaan and Mushy Peas to Green Tea Kulfi, the story of a chip shop from award-winning producer Thea Burrows.

The new wave of film-makers emerging from our district is one of the reasons why Channel 4 chose to locate its new headquarters in the Leeds City Region.

Directors have said the move from London will give the broadcaster the opportunity to work more closely with regional organisations, businesses and independent production companies and “seek out new, untapped talent”.

The economic recovery strategy builds on these strengths. Our recovery targets include seeking to secure Bradford as the City of Culture 2025, improving the visitor and citizen experience, increasing visitors to cultural and heritage sites and increasing the momentum in the regeneration of our city centre and town centres of Keighley and Shipley.

The sudden shift to localism casts our heritage assets in a new light. People are looking to leave London and the South East in search of more space and a warm Yorkshire welcome.

In the longer term, we want to increase employment in the cultural and creative industries. We have a strong base on which to build: Bradford is home to the National Science and Media Museum, the Alhambra Theatre, and playhouses in Bradford, Bingley, Keighley and Ilkley.

Our cultural heritage includes the Brontës, JB Priestley, David Hockney and Zayn Malik. We broke ground as the first UNESCO City of Film. Little Germany is becoming Little Hollywood.

Bradford’s cultural renaissance can help to regenerate redundant sites and improve our town and city centres, boosting civic confidence and pride. The success of Netflix shows like Bridgerton shows the global demand for content that reflects modern life in all its shapes and forms.

This success should embolden Bradford and its coming generation of cultural and creative entrepreneurs. Diversity sells.