I still feel a lack of security around my career – Top Boy director

Lead director of Top Boy series five, Myriam Raja, has said she still feels “a lack of security” around her career.

Giving evidence at the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee on Tuesday, the writer and director discussed British film and high-end television, and said she had to “work extra, extra hard” to direct on the show, which won the Bafta TV award for best drama series earlier in May.

Raja reflected on how she was able to survive while working on unpaid short film schemes, earlier in her career, and said she “lived at home, didn’t rent” and worked “loads part-time”.

Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Myriam Raja, giving evidence on British film and high-end television to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (House of Commons/PA)

She added: “Before directing Top Boy, I was a mentee on the first season but for that they paid me and they paid me what … is the normal trainee budget, but that money went towards me just commuting into London to be able to go on a shoot.

“If they hadn’t paid me I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

She continued: “Me ending up on Top Boy was a combination of so many things that had to be in place and I feel like I had to work extra, extra hard to get there.

“It had to begin quite young, but if I hadn’t done all those short films, before even getting to NFTS (National Film And Television School), I don’t think I would have had a well-developed visual language and grammar and confidence.

“Then being at the NFTS is how I got my agent, who then helped me get on to Top Boy and then I had to do (a) mentee scheme, then I did one episode and then it was four episodes.

“Me being at the Baftas was after six years of working with that production company, and getting on to Top Boy, and before that, doing all these other schemes.”

BAFTA TV Awards 2024 – London
Charles Steel, Gerry Jackson, Alasdair Flind, Tina Pawlik, Myriam Raja and Alice Pearse after winning the drama series award for Top Boy at the Bafta TV Awards 2024 (Ian West/PA)

Reflecting on the current challenges she faces in her career, she said: “There’s still – you still feel a lack of security around your career.

“I also think, now that I’m trying to write my own feature, and develop it and get it across – when there’s not many directors – you feel like a sole representative and I think your projects get scrutinised a bit more.

“If we had like four other South Asians from various backgrounds, or if they weren’t just British … then there’s a variety of projects and you don’t feel like you have to be managing your career with as much scrutiny.

“I feel like I shouldn’t be feeling so alone in that sense.”

Speaking on the difficulties she faces with her first feature, she added: “I’m finding it quite difficult, I’m writing at the moment, but it’s unpaid and I haven’t worked since last June and that’s me trying to make my first feature, and it shouldn’t be like this really.”

Top Boy first aired on Channel 4, starting in 2011, before it was revived by Netflix in 2019, and its fifth and final series aired in 2023.

The series, created and written by Ronan Bennett, is set on the fictional Summerhouse Estate in Hackney and focuses on characters including Dushane and Sully, played by Ashley Walters and Kane “Kano” Robinson, as they strive ruthlessly to become the local dominant “Top Boys”.