The ‘Fatima’ advert, explained

Krys Alex/CyberFirst/HM Government

Recently, a government-backed advert depicting the ballet dancer “Fatima” has been spreading around social media. This image has stirred controversy among artists who feel that it undermines their industry and seems especially relevant to students aiming for a career in the arts. So, what’s going on?

“Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. (she just doesn’t know it yet)”, states the advert. It encourages people to “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot”, reorientating themselves towards a career in “cyber”, presumably meaning cyber security. The image started to receive attention after it was shared by theatre casting director Anne Vosser.

Why are people unhappy? 

People have accused the government of being “tone-deaf” and suggesting that a career in the arts is somehow invalid. Renowned choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne criticised the advert, asking: “This has to be a joke? Right?”

“Who the hell let Billy Elliot’s dad be in charge of the government?”, asks a piece by The Guardian, pointing out that “the creative sector contributes more to the economy than the automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas industries combined”. The creative sector as a whole contributed over £111 billion in total to the UK economy in 2018, nearly £13 million every hour.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has previously come under fire for comments interpreted as suggesting that artists find new jobs amid the pandemic, although the article was updated to make clear that his comments were about employment in general.

Those criticising the government argue that the arts are at the core of our national identity and that the cultural sector “has been largely left to fend for itself” during lockdown. Recently, the arts have received financial support as part of the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.

Meanwhile, the government has distanced itself from the “Fatima” image amid the widespread criticism, and the advert has been removed.

Who is ‘Fatima’? 

The original picture is not new, nor was it taken for this campaign. It was captured by Krys Alex, an Atlanta-based freelance photographer and features in a July 2017 Instagram post from her account.

Recently, she released a video explaining the context behind her picture. In the video, she explains that “Fatima” is actually named Desire’e, an aspiring dancer from Atlanta and member of Vibez in Motion, a dance studio there.

The owner of Vibez in Motion, Tasha, also appears in the original picture but is cropped out in the advert. Ironically, Desire’e has dreams of studying dance in college.

The image was available via the stock image site Unsplash. However, Krys mentions that she “would have never agreed to” the picture being used in the way that it has been.

Where does the advert come from? 

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden, stated that his department was not responsible for the “crass” advert, tweeting: “This was a partner campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber security”. He emphasised his commitment to the arts sector, saying: “I want to save jobs in the arts which is why we are investing £1.57bn”.

As stated in the advert, the image is part of the CyberFirst programme, which introduces people to a career in cyber security. The programme began in 2015 and is organised by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is part of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The NCSC’s page for CyberFirst gives an overview of the scheme’s activities, including a “bursary scheme to financially support undergraduates through university and a degree apprenticeship scheme” as well as “a girls’ only competition and thousands of free places on CyberFirst courses at UK universities and colleges”.

The “Fatima” advert appears to have been distributed by QA, a technology skills provider, which has been closely involved with CyberFirst from its beginning, announcing “Partnership status” with the programme for 2020/21.

Although QA has removed references to “Fatima” from its website, an archived version of a page dedicated to the ad shows seven figures alongside “Fatima” from a range of backgrounds, including a hairdresser, grocery clerk, and barista. The others featured are named “Omar”, “Jahmal”, “Sophia”, “Dan”, “Justin”, “Will”, and “Naomi”.

The page states that a career in cyber security could be an option for those whose lives have been “shaken up” by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not entirely clear whether all the images, including that of “Fatima”, are exclusively for the 2020 campaign, however, it is obvious that “Omar” is wearing a face mask.

Ultimately, the evidence seems to corroborate Mr Dowden’s explanation that the “Fatima” advert was part of a campaign targetting a range of people, not just artists.