Fanta Jarjussey worked in production for 13 years before opting to leave, below is her open letter to the industry published in full
My love for journalism, media, music and entertainment stem from childhood. I used to sit in front of the television watching in awe and inspired by the likes of Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey so I ended up doing both in front and behind the camera work.
From school to university, I always studied the arts: media, entertainment and social sciences with a passion and thirst for knowledge, experience and story telling.
I did my university work experience at MTV UK and the rest is history. My first taste of the industry at MTV was truly a time I cherish to this day.
As time went on, I became a fully fledged freelancer in television production, music journalism, artist management, artist and talent liaison, consultancy, public relations, and events management but a huge portion of my thirteen year career has been spent in television production which is solely the aspects of my work life thus far I will be addressing in this article.
Over the last thirteen years, I have worked on some of the biggest TV shows with some of the biggest names and biggest companies in the world. Whilst this was a dream come true in some respect, the reality didn’t match my naive expectations.
Despite the excitement on peoples faces when I told them what my jobs were, my enthusiasm slowly diminished as time went on but I persevered. I didn’t want to fail, I thought the challenges I was facing were normal after a while and to succeed meant that I had to endure it all but I eventually came to the realisation that this was an illusion.
The more I worked and pushed myself, the less peace and contentment I had. The farther away I got from my childhood dreams, goals and visions, the more contracts I was offered.
Last year, I made the decision to walk away (again) and never look back, particularly in the ways in which I had both worked and experienced the industry. This time it was different, I had changed, grown and matured beyond this way of living which was painfully illuminated to me when I briefly returned. With that being said, here are:
10 Reasons Why I Quit Television Production.
The nature of the industry is one that lacks diversity and is clearly set up to protect and elevate the careers of those who they identify with most whilst vilifying, stereotyping, sabotaging, racial profiling, bullying, punishing and isolating those who don’t fit the mould or bend to their will. It is simply one rule for them and another for us.
2. Mental Health And Well Being
Aside from the tough demands and toxic culture of the industry itself… Constantly expected to sacrifice bare necessities required for well being: sufficient sleep, food, rest, support and communication with loved ones (especially when away from home which is often for weeks and months at a time) all in the name of money, entertainment, fame, power and status are detrimental to one’s physical, mental and emotional well being.
Covid amplified these sacrifices when we had to work in bubbles locked in where we were not allowed to go anywhere except for the allocated accommodation and the set. Being tested for Covid daily and a few times a week in other cases was taxing.
In some instances, these rules only applied to some and not to others creating an environment of rule breaking and resentment from those who obliged. Turning a blind eye to some whilst punishing others due to favouritism and corruption was evident.
In the grand scheme of things, most programmes are not saving lives or benefitting society and humanity at large in any way shape or form so truly, it’s a hollow and worthless sacrifice of good overall health to make.
Every few weeks or months, being at the mercy of those hiring will do wonders in amplifying the crippling fear of rejection, financial insecurity and anxiety. The pick me culture of freelancers in this field on top of the above, only adds to suffering poor mental health and emotional distress.
3. Conflicted With My Morals, Beliefs, Ethics And Values.
Although I haven’t always and don’t practise Islam, I was born and raised a Muslim. Regardless of not being religious, I’ve always been a spiritual person and in my heart of hearts, I knew much of my work assigned to me and my colleagues was not in alignment with what is known to be Godly and good natured.
To be a good producer (most roles for that matter within this field) you are expected to put emotions, morals, ethics and your human self aside because the show / story comes first and your loyalty is with the said story, higher ups, production company and the network / broadcaster; not for the well being and positive progression of human beings.
Exploitation and manipulation is the name of the game and this would wreak havoc with me internally and at times externally. I was guilt-ridden for my affiliation with it all. I was angry, I was sad, I felt oppressed, depressed, emotionally overwhelmed and at times when I knew and expressed the fact that what we were doing was unethical, nobody truly cared.
I was consistently told to just get on with it because it is the nature of the work we do. I was always encouraged to remain silent and ultimately told to not let the higher ups hear my true feelings and to put them aside or the alternative was to quit and face the backlash and financial loss that comes with it.
4. Working Hours And Conditions
There are times when I’ve worked almost 24 hours with minimal breaks and on my days off (when it’s been to the extreme) with no extra pay and often met with ingratitude and expectancy to show up a mere few hours later for another long day of work with a smile on my face.
The rewards apart from your pay check being compliments and that’s if you even get credit for your work as a lot of it is overlooked or credited to others. That’s even if you end up doing the actual job you’re experienced in and have levelled up to because they can change what your role is according to what benefits them unbeknownst to you until you actually arrive at the office or on set.
When I couldn’t live up to and maintain this, I’d be accused of being moody, having an attitude problem (that old chestnut for a black woman), aggressive (another favourite for a black individual) and difficult to work with.
Your breaks, lunch and or dinner hours doesn’t exist in most instances and most often than not, you’ll abandon sufficient downtime for fear of looking like you’re not committed enough to your work. You’re put under immense pressure to meet unreasonable deadlines and encouraged to beat out the competition; your fake friends masqueraded as colleagues.
5. Toxic Environment
Misuse of power, sexism, racism, superiority complex, unfair dismissals, sexual harassment, drugs and alcohol abuse are to name a few. Verbal abuse, fear, manipulation, gaslighting, segregation, bullying, intimidation… The list goes on with this one. It is never ending and can drive even the strongest person to reach some of the lowest of all lows they’ve experienced in their lives.
6. High School High
Malice, gossip, ego-stroking, kissing behinds, seeking constant validation, acceptance and reassurance, back stabbing, forming cliques and bullying barely scratch the surface. I often say behind the scenes dramas would be more entertaining and definitely more true to reality than the shows themselves. It is a mere popularity contest, a you can’t sit with us culture.
If you want to make it, one almost has to create and operate through a fake persona they’ll all like but if you want to live an authentic life of being yourself and staying true to your beliefs, ethics and morals, it becomes a struggle when who you are beneath the surface does not fit in with the standard expectations and what’s popular and appealing to the masses.
7. The Ruthless Majority
Valuing power, money, fame and status over being decent human beings. It has made me sick to my stomach what I have witnessed on TV sets, production meetings and overall treatment of not only crew but cast members as well.
Senior staff will even ask crew to leave the set when they’re doing extremely immoral things and putting the dignity and mental health of cast members and crew on the line by way of constructing story lines that are based on manipulation, gas lighting, coercion and intimidation; using contracts most don’t really understand and other deceptive means.
Their minions usually will carry out all instructions without batting an eyelid for fear of going down in their bosses’ estimations or dismissed as an average crew member and having their pass to the elite social cliques revoked. If you don’t want to do it, if you can’t bring yourself to do it, somebody else will.
Sometimes, there are production crew members who become friends with their assigned cast members and secretly do everything they can to protect them from the plots of Producers and Executives but as you can imagine, this is forbidden and frowned upon.
Getting caught or reported, you can get sacked depending on how far you’ve gone which is one of the worst things that can happen in one’s career path because you need a reference for your next contract and have a reputation to build and maintain as a freelancer.
People can listen to conversations you’re having off camera when mics are still on so even a misconstrued joke or slip of the tongue can get you reported.
These are not the types of people I want to be surrounded by, live with on long shoots and definitely not the types of people I want to work with side by side. Our true natures are misaligned which makes it incredibly difficult to be around and work with them.
8. Detrimental Programming
I love making shows and documentaries. I always have and I probably always will because I love telling genuine stories that can inspire, uplift and positively impact individuals, societies and the world. Stories that can raise awareness and give the voiceless a voice.
Whilst this is true, some of my work ended up being the opposite and (reality TV in particular) turned out to be far from real. If you knew how they were made, you wouldn’t watch them.
I recently saw I Am Georgina on Netflix and was so pleased to see a positive reality docuseries. I didn’t work on this show so I’m unaware of the dynamics behind the scenes but what I binge watched was an inspirational story that didn’t glorify toxicity and conflict for success. We need more like this!
9. There Is No I In Team
Competition to outshine, outwork each other and be liked and popular is the general consensus. Many can argue that this is the norm in various fields and businesses but they may not be aware of the unique ways in which this manifests in TV land. Turning on one another and siding with abusive authority figures becomes second nature and often done out of fear and obedience.
So-called teams sabotage each other on a daily basis. They support what benefits and elevates them, not what benefits the team as a unit.
The majority are working from an egotistical and self-beneficial perspective resulting in the deterioration of genuine team spirited work environments.
If you want genuine support you can forget it, unless it comes from the few needles in the haystack that are benevolent and or you reach out to TV and Film agencies who can talk through things with you but even then; there is only so much they can do and only so far they can go with taking action against wrong doing. When it comes down to it, you’re ultimately on your own.
10. Hindered Growth
The older I got, the more work and life experience I gained, the more lessons I learned, the more difficult it became to deny how much of my growth and prosperity was being stifled both personally, spiritually and in my work life goals.
I was certain that this was not the purpose I wanted to align my life purpose with but it evidently can be what was destined for a grand part of my ultimate learning ground, growth and evolution.
The powers that be in this industry were not my higher power and it was time I gave The Most High control over all things above mere human beings who are imperfect just like myself. It was time to once and for all say NO MORE and stand up for myself indefinitely.
It was time to step into my divinely led power, realise how ridiculous it was to kill myself working night and day to cast, produce and bring everything to the table only for it to be manipulated to suit a certain narrative, taken and owned by others to benefit from whilst I get to go to sleep at night accompanied with a disturbing and overwhelming feeling of guilt, exhaustion, dissatisfaction at the core, a few thousand pounds (if you’ve negotiated smartly) and ultimately what turns out to be at a soul level, meaningless praise and shallow career progression.
The ten reasons listed above have not been elaborated on to their full extent but it gives a true reflection of the nature of the beast.
After years of dipping in and out, (I couldn’t bear it consistently) the final straw came for me last year when the overall unjust working conditions, racism, bullying, secrecy, spying and false accusations by way of sabotage, gossip and overall toxic behaviours and practices became too much to bear.
I was depressed, mentally and emotionally fatigued. Spiritually, I was depleted, latching on tightly with the little I had left for hopes of getting myself out without fear of the repercussions.
“Do it for the money” wasn’t even a motivating factor because I won’t knowingly and consciously sell my soul. In the end, I would be in tears every morning at the thought of going on set and begging God to help me find a way out.
Rocking back and forth in tears on the floor in the shower of my hotel room was not it. Staying up till the early hours of the morning consoling others secretly suffering the same circumstances was tough, but I couldn’t abandon them. All I had left to give was compassion, support and genuine concern. We were traumatised.
I had quit drinking and smoking for weeks short of a year prior to my brief return and I am responsible for my own actions so cannot and will not blame others for this but I soon fell to the pressures of “It’s only one” and: “You’ve done so well not drinking for almost a year, you deserve a drink, can’t do this job without one, you’ll go crazy!”
Of course, drinking can take the edge off when you’re living and working in such an environment but turning to unhealthy substances as a coping mechanism for poor mental and emotional health never ends with prosperity which I had become well aware of over the years. I quit drinking alcohol for good reasons and upon my exit from the last show I worked on, have maintained my abstinence from alcohol. That says a lot doesn’t it?
The last straw came for me when I reverted back to toxicity that I had left behind. The last straw came when, again, I was bullied, racially abused and expected to be a scapegoat for things many were accomplices of and I refused to take sole blame and be penalised for something a huge amount of the crew were a part of, including senior staff members.
Something that in the greater scheme of things, was a grain of sand on a dirty beach. I was clearly being targeted, ostracised and bullied for not bowing down and made an example of. A mere few of my colleagues out of hundreds of people genuinely came to my aid and defence. Their act of kindness, compassion and standing up for what’s just, are true humanitarian efforts that I will never forget.
The last straw came for me when I wasn’t given rights to defend myself, yet again, in multiple situations. This was nothing new and not unique to me so I’m not playing victim by any means, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it happened to me.
Usually, you’re meant to take it, charge it to the game and keep it moving but it was killing me inside to suffer in silence when I was being treated unjustly and unfairly. It was sel-betrayal to remain silent and I just couldn’t carry on like that.
Rather than making room for a fair right to reply, you’re gaslit, manipulated, racially profiled, stereotyped, bullied into remaining silent, indirectly threatened, told little information about what the issues are specific to you, yet expected to grin and bear it. Paranoia becomes a daily companion when you are expected to blindly work in an environment not knowing who, what, why, where or when.
The last straw came with more smear campaigns, dishonesty and hiding reports made by both cast and crew members about bullying, coercion, and racism in broad day light.
They knew it was happening, some hid it because it was their friends who were the culprits but even when reports were escalated, excuses were made or a talk was allegedly had or let go of for fear of the repercussions and that was the end of it. So the cycle continues.
Despite the above, the good Lord heard my cries because a situation that looked like a bad thing turned out to be the biggest blessing in disguise. A huge mountain was being moved for me. The answer to my prayers, a way out. Inspired action to quit indefinitely. Had I not suffered at the hand of said abusers, I’d perhaps not have been brave enough to finally say enough.
I would never have been brave enough to even write these words publicly or defend myself and others. Unintentionally, I became an example of turning pain into power.
There are a few needles in the haystack who are genuinely nice people in the television making world but even then, their loyalty ultimately lies with their cliques, own career security, prospects and the powers of the industry that be. Even then, the ones with the purest intentions to help can only do so much on their own.
I am grateful and appreciative of those who helped me along the way to the best of their abilities (You know who you are). The changes that are needed for a healthier working environment must come from the top where the toxic culture that accompanies the industry stem from.
Yes, there are those both behind and in front of the cameras who know what they’re getting themselves into and are playing the game for their own gain but there are those of us who become aware and say this isn’t right and not worth the superficial rewards.
The question many have asked: Will I ever return to the television industry in some capacity? Perhaps. Will I ever subject myself to the conditions listed above again? Absolutely not. I can with grounded certainty say that the little girl I once was is a woman now who is fearless. Who has learned to love and value herself.
She found peace, she humbly knows her truth, morals, beliefs, self respect, dignity, authenticity, humanitarian efforts, dreams, goals, ambitions and worth are far better than that of the little girl who naively embarked on this career path. She learned the power of saying no. She had the courage to walk away and not look back because she has well and truly evolved.
- This blog was originally published here